Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Crossbill in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


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
Carrion Crow
100+ Starlings
2 Green Woodpecker - singles at two sites
Skylarks - numerous singing birds
1 Meadow Pipit over
3 Song Thrush - singing males
157+ Fieldfare - east passage
Great Tit
Blue Tit
2 Marsh Tit (including singing male)
2 Chiffchaff - singing males
4 Goldcrest - 2 pairs
10+ Linnet
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)
Mute Swan
2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers 'drumming'
3 Cetti's Warblers - singing males
1 Chiffchaff - singing bird
Marsh Tit
Coal Tit
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

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
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
Treecreeper singing male
Woodlark singing male
Carrion Crow
3+ Goldcrest
1 Brambling over east
1 Redpoll over east
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
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
6+ Cetti's Warblers (singing males)
Great Tit
Marsh Tit
Long-tailed Tit
10+ Song Thrushes (singing males)
House Sparrow
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.