Breckland Birder

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

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.