Breckland Birder

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

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.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Passage

A beautiful start to the day with very good light and visibility, however, the strong westerly wind was quite cold.
At this time of year, incoming summer migrants meet with outgoing wintering species, and this was indeed the case this morning.
I took my Toby for an early morning walk near Bodney.  This beautiful part of Breckland has wide open expanses of arable, often with little cover from the elements.  This mornings walk took us along a very exposed part of Bodney where there was no relief from the strong wind, despite this, I could just make out the song of a single Chiffchaff in a sheltered woodland.
At about 0705 I heard the simple call of a Meadow Pipit passing by to my right.  I quickly located it visually, it was clear that this bird was on passage as I stopped to watch it through binoculars as it continued its northbound journey until I lost it to view.  Despite being buffeted by the wind, this small bird had purpose as it made its way, presumably to its breeding grounds in upland Britain.  
I then moved onto Little Cressingham to check for signs of singing/displaying Curlews, and indeed, a bird was seen giving its beautiful bubbling song.
The highlight here was the seeing large numbers of Fieldfares (250+) on the ground with 200+ Starlings and just a few Redwings.  The ground was wet making the extraction of juicy earthworms quite easy for these beautiful Thrushes.  The food source of all these species was not confined to the ground, often they were watched in hedges and wooded tree-lined hedgerows where Ivy berries were taken.
Fieldfare in Ivy at Little Cressingham 21st March.  This bird fed upon Ivy berries.
Also in this area, a pair of Red Kites soared close to the ground in search of carrion, often coming quite close and revealing their large size and distinctive forked tail.
A few Finches and Reed Bunting were typically seen close to a large maize strip.
Despite the wind, this was a productive morning with wonderful birds to be seen, however, I have always been interested in migration and seeing the single Meadow Pipit heading purposefully north reminded me of the enigma that is bird migration.   

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Green Sandpiper

An early morning dog walk around the small village of Southburgh produced at least 4 singing Chiffchaffs, clearly, this migrant Warbler is beginning to increase in numbers now.

Stow Bedon (early afternoon)
This afternoon I decided to visit a locality which has traditionally been reliable for passage waders. I arrived at the site at about 1300 and located my target species for this visit, a single Green Sandpiper. Unfortunately, the bird flew off, however, this was a good opportunity to see the distinctive dark, unmarked upperwing contrasting strongly with the snow-white rump.
Having watched this area for many years I have encountered many Green Sandpipers either on passage, or occasionally as winter visitors.
A good tip for locating Green Sandpipers on passage is to check muck heaps on fields, the seepage from these heaps are a magnet to Green Sandpipers and attract a wealth of other species which feed upon midges and other invertebrates.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Blackcap in Hethersett 16th March (An interesting record for discussion)

At 0800 this morning, whilst working in Hethersett, I found a singing male Blackcap in thick Ivy within a mature garden in the village. 
We know that small numbers of Blackcaps spend the winter in Britain, however, studies appear to show that Blackcaps wintering in Britain are birds which have bred in central Europe.  Studies have also shown that not too many 'British' Blackcaps have been ringed/recorded in winter in Britain.
This March has seen early arriving Chiffchaffs on my Breckland patch, the first singing birds being noted from the middle of the second week of March.  Given the good numbers of Chiffchaffs being seen earlier in March, I would like to think that my singing Blackcap this morning in Hethersett is a recently arrived migrant from the south. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Thrush passage

The birding day for me started in the small hours when Redwings were heard passing over.  Interestingly, small flocks of Redwings were seen passing overhead, east, from my garden soon after sunrise.
The day was dry with some good sunny spells giving a high of 15 degrees Celsius. The wind was a moderate westerly.

Ashill 0715-0900
A pleasant walk east of the village gathered a total of 31 species seen or heard as follows:

3 Buzzards
1 Sparrowhawk
1 Kestrel
2 Lapwings over NW
3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls South
Wood Pigeon
4 Stock Doves (2 pairs)
Collared Dove
Rook
Carrion Crow
Jackdaw
100+ Starlings
2 Green Woodpecker - singles at two sites
Skylarks - numerous singing birds
1 Meadow Pipit over
Blackbird
3 Song Thrush - singing males
157+ Fieldfare - east passage
Robin
Dunnock
Wren
Great Tit
Blue Tit
2 Marsh Tit (including singing male)
2 Chiffchaff - singing males
4 Goldcrest - 2 pairs
Chaffinch
10+ Linnet
Greenfinch
Yellowhammer (6+ territories located)
4 Bullfinch (2 pairs)

Fieldfare passage
Although no spectacular numbers of Thrushes involved, today will be remembered as a day of Thrush passage which started in the early hours in the night sky above Watton when Redwings were heard overhead, this was followed by a light visual passage seen after sunrise.
My visit to Ashill this morning produced further interesting Thrush passage, this time involving Fieldfares.  A small flock of 12+ were seen in wooded habitat, however, two notable movements of Fieldfares seen as follows:
80+ birds east overhead at 0825 watched until almost lost to view.
65+ birds east overhead at 0900 watched until almost lost to view.
These two flocks of Fieldfares were undoubtedly outbound migrants journeying cross country before heading north to eventually make for their north European breeding grounds.  A moderate westerly wind would have aided their passage.



Saturday, 11 March 2017

An exotic on the patch.

Reed Bunting in typical pose 11th March
Another Chiffchaff found in song this morning near Thompson, my second bird in as many days on the patch.
A walk around Thompson this morning also produced 4 singing Reed Buntings and a number of singing Yellowhammers.
Two pairs of Little Grebes were found on pools where there was much chasing and calling going on.  Close by 2 Kingfishers were seen.
Two Water Rails were heard giving their distinctive pig-like squeal within dense, rank vegetation around pools.
A single Woodcock was put up in Birch woodland where it was concealed in bracken understorey.
Two Tawny Owls called and a pair of Kestrels were seen.
To brighten up the early greyness within woodland a pair of Mandarin Ducks flew into view, the female was seen first showing her distinctive bespectacled feature, then the spectacular male joined here, a very exotic looking duck species.   Most of this observation was of the birds perched high in trees within open woodland habitat.
A good range of common species also seen and heard included a number of singing Treecreepers, Nuthatch, singing Goldcrests, at least 4 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpeckers
Three singing Marsh Tits were seen or heard along with other common Tit species.
Three pairs of Bullfinches were either seen or heard giving their simple piping call.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Thompson Water, Norfolk

4 Little Grebes (2 pairs)
Coot
Wigeon
Teal
Mute Swan
2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers 'drumming'
3 Cetti's Warblers - singing males
1 Chiffchaff - singing bird
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit
Nuthatch
Reed Bunting (3 pairs)
Reed Bunting (male) 10th March at Thompson Water. 'Parson of the Marsh'

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Chorus of Frogs at Little Hockham, Norfolk

At about midday today I decided to visit an area of relic fen near Little Hockham.  I wish I had taken a small lens, the light was just right for landscape images.  It was a beautiful early afternoon visit with strong, quite warm sunshine with a high of 15 degrees Celsius. The fresh north-westerly wind had a cooling edge to it.
Frogs at Little Hockham 9th March
What was particularly noticeable about this visit was watching large numbers of Frogs mating, and spawning in some of the Ice age pools, or Pingo's.  The wind in the trees was quite noisy but when it dropped a wonderful chorus of croaking Frogs could be heard, a wonderful experience.
'Pure Gold' Frog at Little Hockham 9th March
Birding was fairly quiet on this visit, although a pair of Little Grebes was watched on one of the larger pools.  Usually, these diminutive Grebes kept close to the pool edge in the cover of reed stems, although one did break cover to 'run' across the surface of the water before diving.  The distinctive 'whinnying' call was often given.  
Marsh Tits were present at four localities and two males were heard in song together, a fast, repeated "chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip-chip", once heard, an easy song to identify.
The majority of this visit was spent watching Frogs, a wonderful experience.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A good morning in the Brecks, and evidence of passage seen.

The weather forecasters got it wrong again, I was expecting rain and cloud, however, it was a very pleasant day, sunny, quite warm in sheltered parts, and a high of 13 degrees Celsius.
A range of habitats were explored this morning from mature Pine compartments to recently cleared areas ready for planting sapling conifers.  A good range of species seen with highlights being:

1 Goshawk female
2 Buzzard
1 Curlew - high east and calling
Woodlark (including well seen pair)
Willow Tit
2 Crossbill
Redpoll

1 Curlew (migrant) east at about 1015. I initially heard this bird approaching from the west, then it was seen directly overhead, high, and flying east, direct and purposefully.  This was clearly a passage bird and I would like to think this is a bird making for its Breckland breeding grounds, some miles from where I was birding this morning.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Hockham, Norfolk 0710-0900

I arrived at Hockham at 0710 in good light although cloud was set to increase bringing rain at around 0900, I therefore thought I would take this early window of opportunity to get some birding in.
A good selection of species were seen or heard this morning (static watch), both resident species, some local movements, and Gull passage.  Midway through my visit I was joined by my good birding friend Peter Dolton.

12+  Grey Heron
Water Rail
Mallard
Greylag Geese
Canada Geese
1 Goshawk (female)
Lesser Black-backed Gull - a light westerly passage
2 Common Gull > west
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2 'drumming'
Green Woodpecker
Nuthatch
Treecreeper singing male
Woodlark singing male
Carrion Crow
3+ Goldcrest
1 Brambling over east
1 Redpoll over east
Siskin
Chaffinch
1 Reed Bunting singing male

Good numbers of Grey Herons (12+) were seen, often these elegant birds perched in the topmost branches of trees where the early light made them somewhat conspicuous.  Despite the large size of the Grey Heron, one bird was clearly alarmed when at 0755, a female Goshawk appeared low over the tree canopy in a long glide, remaining in sight for about ten seconds before going out of sight in woodland.  The Goshawk was clearly hunting and intent on spooking an unsuspecting Pigeon or Crow.  I think the Goshawk was sitting somewhere within woodland as passing Carrion Crows were stooping towards the canopy, surely where the Goshawk was sitting, waiting.
Overhead, a light westerly passage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple of Common Gulls was seen.
Other local movements included a single Brambling and a single Redpoll overhead in an easterly heading.
I could hear a distant male Reed Bunting singing his staccato song, he was soon located on the top of a young Alder where he continued to sing.  Despite the distance, the Reed Buntings salient plumage features were seen including the black head and bib, this strongly contrasted with the white underparts in the strong early morning light.  Occasionally he turned position to reveal his brownish mantle, again, contrasting with the black head.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Boughton Fen, Norfolk 0710-0930

This morning I decided to visit for my first time, the wonderful Boughton Fen.  I arrived at about 0710 with low cloud and light rain and drizzle.  Light was poor but improved towards the latter part of my stay.
Boughton Fen 4th March
Boughton Fen is located about 16 miles west of my home in Watton and lies between the villages of Oxborough and Eastmoor.
Boughton Fen is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is maintained by a very dedicated band of volunteers, whose work has clearly benefited wildlife, and it is to them that I give credit to for giving us a site which is highly attractive to a host of bird species.

30+ Lapwing
7+ Water Rail
4 Marsh Harriers (display seen)
50+ Greylag Geese+
Canada Geese
Mallard
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
6+ Cetti's Warblers (singing males)
Great Tit
Marsh Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Dunnock
Robin
Wren
Blackbird
10+ Song Thrushes (singing males)
House Sparrow
Greenfinch
2 Bullfinch (pair)
7+ Reed Buntings (singing males)

Reed Bunting (male) At least 7 singing males at Boughton Fen




Always an obvious bird in spring is the Reed Bunting.  The male bird generally sits in a conspicuous branch from where he delivers his staccato song.
Most birds seen today at Boughton Fen were seen in a bush or small tree within a reed-bed, a typical habitat.  I love to know birds by their local, or colloquial names, and the Reed Bunting is known in Norfolk as 'The Parson of the Marsh', a very apt name for this gorgeous bird.
In line with my recent observations it was pleasing to  hear at least 10 Song Thrushes in song, a healthy population following on from declines a few years ago.
I think it was back in the early 1970's when Cetti's Warblers were first recorded in the UK, since then, this secretive bird has significantly expanded its range and occupies many suitable habitats, this was indeed the case this morning when at least 6 singing Cetti's Warblers gave their explosive song from within cover.  I am sure more are present on Boughton Fen.
My walk around the fen produced at least 7 Water Rails calling from deep within cover.

Hockham 1600-1700
I paid a late afternoon visit to Hockham where at least 12 Grey Herons were seen, also, 2 Little Egrets were present.  2 Water Rails were heard.  Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, several Teal, 1 Buzzard, and a 'drumming' Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard.
Little Egret at Hockham 4th March (One of 2 birds present).




















Friday, 3 March 2017

Just where is that Cetti's Warbler

A couple of days ago I paid an early morning visit to Thompson Water and the surrounding Carr habitat.  It was a glorious morning with several species appearing to announce that spring is almost here with them affirming their territories with wonderful song.
Great Spotted Woodpecker at Thompson Water March 2017

I noticed that the damp woodland carr habitat held at least 8 singing male Goldcrests.  This diminutive bird has a piercing song which sounds cyclical in rendition "cedar-cedar-cedar-cedar-cedar-cedar" ending in a flourish of notes, is my best way of transcribing the song.   To make things complicated perhaps to the untrained ear, two or three Treecreepers sang their piercing song, a little similar to the Goldcrest.
Nuthatches were calling and at least 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers were 'drumming'.
Tit species were well represented with Great and Blue Tits seen, along with their smaller cousin, the Coal Tit, of which three or more sang.  Marsh Tits were present in numbers, some six or so were seen, and song was heard, as well as the very loud, sneeze-like "pitchou" call.
Around the periphery of the water in reeds, sallow, and damp carr habitat, am expected Reed Bunting was heard singing and two or three female birds were seen.
A beautifully marked female Reed Bunting at Thompson, Norfolk March 2017
Two Cetti's Warblers gave their explosive song typically within cover, one of which was so close that it just had to be within sight without optics, but as seasoned birders know, this retiring, resident Warbler remained elusive, almost.  Cetti's Warblers inhabit thick, tangled habitat by the waters edge, this bird did in fact show, but only the rear end as it slipped between cover.  This bird continued to give occasional bursts of its song, a song to the untrained ear, is so loud for the small size of the bird.
About a month ago when visiting this site, I was fortunate enough to see a Cetti's Warbler creeping about within thick cover, a privileged observation indeed.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Little Hockham, Norfolk 0725-0900

Signs of Spring and the forthcoming breeding season seen this morning.  A variety of habitats visited including mature, mixed woodland, open woodland, gorse, relic fen, and swampy carr.
Passerine species featured most commonly with a fine concentration of at least 5 singing Yellowhammers seen within Gorse habitat, also nearby in open woodland/fen, a pair of Reed Buntings seen together low down in a Willow with the male giving occasional song.  It was at this time when it was possible to appreciate the plumage differences between the male and female bird.  The male has now developed his breeding plumage, Black head and bib interrupted by the white moustachial stripe, whilst the female has a more browner, patterned head.
The surrounding mixed woodland held 6+ singing Song Thrushes, singing Mistle Thrush, singing Blackbird, Redwings, singing Goldcrest (3+ males), 5+ Treecreepers (4 males singing), Nuthatch, Blue, Great, and Coal Tits. Long-tailed Tits also seen.
The pools around this site produced a pair of Mallards, pair of Gadwall, and a single Grey Heron.
Relic fen habitat holding singing Yellowhammer and a pair of Reed Buntings 27/02/17
Deopham, Norfolk
The site visited this afternoon is very sparsely vegetated, the open, arable habitat here was the site of the former WW2 base, home of the 452nd bomb group which flew B17 Flying Fortresses.
Although appearing barren, there are pockets of valuable habitat (including some wonderful Sallow) which provide shelter for wintering birds as well as good breeding sites for Warblers.  The open habitat here has produced Merlin and passing Harrier species in the past. 
Few species seen on this visit.  Several Skylarks sang against the low, grey cloud, also a single male Yellowhammer seen in flight.  A pair of Linnets passed over.  An isolated patch of field-side scrub held a singing Dunnock.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Finches and Buntings

A visit mid-afternoon to a reliable site in the Little Cressingham parish for Finches and Buntings produced a largish mixed group of birds at a typical winter habitat of maize.  The majority species were Bramblings with smaller numbers of Chaffinches, and a few Greenfinches and Reed Buntings.
Bramblings, Chaffinches, and Greenfinch 19th Feb.
A nice gathering of Finches seen here with a variety of wonderful plumages seen. In this picture, it is possible to appreciate the plumages differences between the male and female Bramblings.
Also of interest was a flock of 44+ Fieldfares flying high in an easterly heading, outgoing migrants perhaps.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Hoe Rough near Dereham, Norfolk

This morning I had to collect my car from a garage at North Elmham where it had been in for repair since somebody drove into it whilst parked.  On my way back to Dereham I decided to stop off at the beautiful Hoe Rough, a wonderful example of unimproved grassland in the River Whitewater valley.

Moorhen
1 Brambling
2 Marsh Tit (pair)
Great Tit 3+ singing males
Blue Tit
Long-tailed Tit
Blackbird
Siskin over

I spent about an hour (0945-1045) at this lovely site, wandering around grassland, scattered woodland, Gorse habitat, and a look along the Whitewater valley.
It was initially cloudy and cool, however, cloud began to break allowing sunny intervals as I prepared to leave.  It remained too cool however for any early Adders to make an appearance.
Long-tailed Tit seen in the Whitewater valley at Hoe Rough 18th Feb.
Hoe Rough is a great place to visit the strange grassy mounds scattered around the site, these mounds are the nests of the Yellow Meadow Ant.  These nests may be decades or centuries old and is a clear indication that land has been undisturbed thus allowing these nests to form.
Whilst wandering around an area of open woodland, a single Brambling was seen amongst upper branches, and was often concealed within this habitat.  It moved to another tree but I just managed to see it, its black-tipped straw coloured bill, black head, bright orangey breast, and bright orange scapular patch which confirmed this to be a male bird, a stunning individual.
The Long-tailed Tit pictured here was seen in thick, tangled habitat by the river Whitewater.  This delicate species will now be in the process of constructing its fantastic domed nests.  The nest is initially constructed in a typical cup shape, the top half is then built to form the dome with a small hole to exit and enter.  I have watched Long-tailed Tits build their nests and it is wonderful to see during the latter stages of construction how the birds knit fine fibres and hair to hold the nest together.  I have also seen the birds press themselves against the inner walls of the nest to in order to mould the nest to a nice fit.  Totally amazing master-builders.
Long-tailed Tit on its partially constructed nest at Hackford, Norfolk, March 2016
The above picture shows a Long-tailed Tit on its partially constructed nest.  Note the lovely cup shape, building would have continued until the dome is formed.  A wonderful construction.

Pleased to see Song Thrushes doing well.

Whether I am at work, dog walking, and of course birding, it has become apparent that Song Thrushes are doing well.  A few years ago this species was sadly reported as being in decline, however, my experience recently is that numbers are quite healthy on my patch.
In the winter months our resident Song Thrush numbers are augmented by winter visitors from Europe, however, this is a good time to get out to assess the number of territories occupied by our resident singing male birds.
February is a good time to see and hear Song Thrushes as they defend their territories for the forthcoming breeding season.  The following is just an example of recent counts:

4th February 8+ singing males in a small area of woodland habitat at Thompson
16th February 5 singing males along a 500m stretch of road near 'The Arms'
18th February 9+ singing males along a small section of forest rides near Hilborough

Conducting a tetrad wide survey would undoubtedly show this species has bounced back from the previously reported declines.

In addition to the birds heard on the 18th February (0615-0645) visit near Hilborough, 5 male Tawny Owls were calling and a single Woodlark was in song.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Foulden, Norfolk

A lovely day with a hint of spring-like weather and a high of 10 degrees Celsius. The fresh south-easterly wind had a cool edge to it.

0800: An interesting movement of a single Skylark very high (singing) flying north-west and watched until lost to view.  A local movement, or a wintering bird making for breeding grounds in the uplands perhaps.

Foulden (mid afternoon)
A visit to Pine forest of varying ages from mature to a young compartment aged at about 5 years.  A mature Larch belt also visited.

4+ Woodlark
2 Mistle Thrushes - singing males
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit singing birds
Siskin
Redpoll
20+ Chaffinches in stubble
Woodlark at Foulden 14/02/17.  Not the best angle, however, the diagnostic black and white patch on the wing is seen here.
Clearly, a large number of Siskins present in the mature Larch wood given the incessant calls given. The birds remained in the crowns making it impossible to count them, however, some seen feeding acrobatically upon the cones.  Redpolls (3 seen) were present with their cousins, again more likely in the treetops.
2 Mistle Thrushes were in fine voice.  20+ Chaffinches were seen in a field of weedy/stubble habitat.
My target bird for the afternoon was Woodlark and 4+ were found.  One bird was seen on logs within one of the windrows in breeding habitat whilst others were on adjoining land of stubble, bare land, and weed where they will feed.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Red Kite over Watton
Tree Sparrows (10+) at Merton
Goshawk at Merton

Following yesterday mornings snowfall, this morning began bright and almost early Spring-like.  The wind however was a strong south-easterly.
I visited a number of local sites today starting with Hockham early morning.  At least 6 singing Song Thrushes were located and a mobile flock of Tits comprised Long-tailed Tits and Marsh Tit.  A couple of habitats were visited which should hold Tree Pipits from April onwards.
Back at home in Watton and a lovely Red Kite was seen low over the houses attracting attention from Corvid species, Gulls, and a small flock of Starlings.  
Kestrel (male) near Watton 13/02/17
Two localities were visited in the afternoon starting with a large maize strip close to 'The Arms' near Little Cressingham.  The wind was strong as it cut across open fields, this appeared to impact on the large numbers of Bramblings seen recently.  A few were seen, one particular flying bird, although distant, revealed in strong light its highly diagnostic narrow white rump.

Merton
My final visit for the day was close to the village of Merton where I spent about 35 minutes (1455-1530) watching a wonderful habitat where a range of species were seen. Species seen on this spot check were:
1 Goshawk, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Starling, Fieldfare, 20+ Redwing, 6+ Blackbirds, Robin,
Dunnock, Wren, Blue Tit, Great Tit, House Sparrow, 10+ Tree Sparrows and Goldfinch

Following this productive visit I drove back home to my home in Watton where I saw a fine male Kestrel sitting in an Ivy clad tree.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Bramblings near Little Cressingham

This afternoon between 1545 and 1600 I visited a very large maize strip close to 'The Arms' which every winter attracts good  numbers of Finch and Bunting species.  Conditions were overcast with very low light and with a temperature of 0 degrees Celsius.
It was clear as I approached the location that good numbers of passerine species were present, in fact the first birds I noticed was a couple of Goldcrests foraging close by in trees.
Large numbers of Finch species were flying between a Larch belt and the maize crop, and in a short while I was able to estimate that 200+ Bramblings were present.  I was able to watch the Bramblings through binoculars and despite low light it was possible to see the white underparts and narrow white rumps as they dropped en masse into the maize.  These Bramblings would gather in the safety of the Larch belt and again, despite low light, the salient features of these birds were seen.  The males were clearly darker around the head and had brighter orange breasts and scapulars, the females much paler and less bright.  The distinctive, nasally "zweeeeu" call was often heard.
Smaller numbers of Chaffinches and Reed Buntings were present within this large flock. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Little Cressingham, Norfolk

Following a morning of thick fog, the afternoon saw clearer conditions. It remained dry with a high of 6 degrees Celsius. 
This afternoon I visited a location very reliable for Finch and Bunting species, reliable because of the maize and wide weedy strips which have been a feature of the winter landscape at this site for many years now.
As expected this afternoon, Bramblings were seen by the maize strip, a food source which will keep this species fed throughout the winter months.
Brambling (male) Little Cressingham 06/02/17
This Brambling is a male bird.  The dark head is currently in winter plumage, however, by the end of April the head will assume a solid black colour and is sharply demarcated.  The beautiful Orange breast and scapulars on this male bird are much brighter than the paler Orange of the female bird, one of which was also seen today.  The females head was also much paler, and indeed remains this way into spring.
Bramblings are gregarious birds and freely mix with other Finches and Buntings in the winter months as they search the woodland floor for food, in this case, corn from the maize and other weed seeds.
The site visited today has held mixed Finches and Buntings in their hundreds.