Breckland Birder

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

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.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Little Hockham and Foulden Common, Norfolk

8 Snipe
3 Woodcock
2 Water Rail (singles 2 sites)
High Finch/Bunting count (Foulden)

Little Hockham
This morning I visited a very ancient site, which topographically has remained unchanged since the end of the Ice age.  A great variety of habitats exist here, however, this morning my main effort was given to the swampy periphery in search of Woodcock.
As with recent field trips I have noticed that Song Thrushes are present in what I would regard as very healthy numbers, this mornings visit to this site produced at least 8 singing males.
A careful walk through swampy habitat around the periphery produced 3 Woodcock, an expected species to see.  I am sure given the habitat here this number is just a fraction of Woodcock actually present.  In similar habitat a calling Water Rail was heard.
The woodland around the site produced several Bullfinches with a pair of these beauties seen in the above habitat.  A male Reed Bunting was heard in song.

Foulden
On route to Foulden Common I stopped to watch along a hedgerow corridor at the edge of the village where I noticed a lot of small bird activity.  What a great experience to witness what must have been probably 150 to 200 birds of varying species feeding spilt grain on a track between hedgerows.  The most numerous species was Chaffinch with Greenfinches, smaller numbers of Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings, and a few Bullfinches.  The mass of birds seen here was quite special.  

Foulden Common
This afternoon I visited the large, unspoilt Foulden Common.  Most effort was given to the drier edges of the common and the fine boundary hedgerows here.
Tit species were well represented here, however, a pair of well-watched Coal Tits reminded me that the numbers of these diminutive Tits will be less here away from the large Pine compartments in the Brecks.  These Coal Tits spent some time in a small Sycamore where they visited many of the hanging bunches of dried seed cases in their search for invertebrate prey.
Bullfinches appeared as a common species in hedgerows and thickets.
Overhead, a small flock of 8 Snipe circled and called, presumably these birds were disturbed from nearby fen habitat.  Also here a Water Rail called.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Early morning close encounter with a Goshawk

At sunrise today I was walking through Cranberry Rough, when, silhouetted against the morning sky, a large female Goshawk passed left to right just above the tree canopy and appearing like a patrolling fighter plane. Having circled once it went out of sight. Passing low just above the tree canopy indicated to me this powerful raptor was hoping to 'put up' an unsuspecting or frightened Pigeon.
Seconds later the Goshawk reappeared heading towards me, it accelerated as it gave chase to a spooked Pigeon, however, the Goshawk broke off the chase and to my surprise it landed in a tree about 150 feet in front of me...but only before flying off into thick woodland.
Although silhouetted against the sky, and no opportunity for a photograph, this close encounter will add to my catalogue of close encounters with this enigmatic, powerful raptor.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Bodney, Norfolk

This was my first day out for some time, this being due to work commitments, followed by being laid low by a nasty vomiting virus.  This came at a bad time for me as yesterday (31st), I was supposed to take my wife to London to see her bowel specialist, needless to say we had to cancel.  And today, my wife has been hit by the virus, of all the days in the year, why now!!!
My poor Toby has suffered also in not getting out for a good walk so this afternoon I took him to Bodney for a gentle walk around forest trails and heathland.
The first trail I walked on was woodland edge/heathland habitat, and looked prime for Woodcock, the ground was covered in thick, dead bracken.  As I slowly walked along a single Woodcock flew up a few feet from my left, and very soon after, a second Woodcock flew up in front of me and off into mature pine woodland.  The Woodcock is a truly enigmatic species, and one which I meet up with often in the Brecks.  Many of the Woodcock seen here in the winter months are likely to be visitors from Russia, these very welcome visitors have come to our shores to make the most of our relatively mild winters.   I look forward to writing about my experiences with this wonderful bird and its fascinating display-flight which starts in early March. 
Typical woodland species were also seen including mixed mobile flocks of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tit, and Blue Tit.  A Great Tit was singing.  Several Goldcrests were seen, this included birds foraging amongst the very outer branches of pine trees in their search for tiny invertebrates.
Finally, in the River Wissey valley, 4 Egyptian Geese were seen in typical breeding habitat of old, knarled Oak trees.  A single Teal flew along the valley.

N.B. I will put out a notice in April/May on my blog inviting interested parties to join me on a warm spring evening to witness the mysterious 'roding' behaviour of the Woodcock.  You will be captivated.