Breckland Birder

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

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)