Breckland Birder

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

Saturday, 26 August 2017

25th August - A morning searching for migrants

My day started long before sunrise with a four mile dog walk around the roads and lanes of Merton and Thompson.  Tawny Owls were encountered at three localities, 2 calling males, and a bird seen flying across a road in front of me.
Today, I visited a number of local sites on my patch with a view to finding migrant birds.  The sites were high ground near North Pickenham, and a couple of locations along the Watton Brook Valley.

North Pickenham
My arrival on high ground near North Pickenham coincided with a small westerly movement of 3 Cormorants.
A particularly good area for finding migrant Warblers is at a large patch of Elders, Hawthorn, and Sallow around a natural spring, as well as a long hedgerow corridor. Watching this area produced the following migrants;  4+ Blackcap, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 4+ Whitethroats, several Chiffchaffs, and a Willow Warbler.  Numbers of Warblers were quite low this morning, however, large numbers of migrants will soon be passing through this rich staging post.
Whitethroat (juvenile).  Whitethroats, and other Warbler species can now be found in good numbers in berry-rich habitats, especially Elder and Bramble, where fruits will be consumed to provide energy for autumn migration.
Also seen was a Red Kite low over woodland, a couple of Song Thrushes, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinches, Linnets, Yellowhammers, and at least 5 Bullfinches (all juveniles).
This time of years has always produced young Bullfinches at this locality.  These youngsters are clearly different from their parents in that they lack the black cap of the adult bird.  They appear brown-grey with a black tail, however, as with the adult Bullfinch, youngsters have the familiar and diagnostic white rump.
Bullfinch - all age groups show the diagnostic white rump.
Watton Brook Valley
I stopped off at two sites along the valley, Little Cressingham and Threxton.  Checking the fences and posts for migrant Chat species did not produce, however, I am sure somewhere in the valley, there will be a lovely Whinchat, or two.
My first stop was at Little Cressingham, here, a single male Whitethroat was seen flying between rank vegetation in the valley, whilst a little further along, a Buzzard sat proudly on a fence post.
My arrival at Threxton produced at least 50 Swallows overhead, whilst a check of the valley at Threxton produced a fine female Blackcap consuming Elderberries.  Chiffchaffs were also seen and Goldcrest and Coal Tit were present.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

OPEN COUNTRY - BBC RADIO 4 (The Brecks East Anglia's -Secret). 


Some weeks ago I was interviewed for this programme, I just wanted to let you know that this will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 31st August at 1500hrs. This will be repeated on 2nd September at 0607hrs.
My input will only be a part of the broadcast as the team visited other sites in the Brecks and interviewed other people in the process.
This programme focusses on the Breckland landscape, how it was formed, the wildlife which calls it home, and those who live and work in this unique part of the country.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Common Sandpiper (juvenile) at Deopham, Norfolk

Following the end of my shift just after midday today I decided to stop off at the muck heap and surrounding water to check for evidence of Wader passage.
I was expecting if anything to find Green Sandpiper as this is the most likely species to be found at the habitat, however, I was more than pleased to find a beautiful Common Sandpiper feeding around the fringes of the water.
Common Sandpiper at Deopham, 22nd August.  Alert carriage.  Note the buff barring on the wing coverts which ages this as a juvenile bird.
This Common Sandpiper had a more horizontal carriage than Green Sandpiper, although when alert it would appear a more upright, slender bird.  Typical behaviour observed included a constant bobbing, or 'teetering' action of the rear end of the bird, the head was also bobbed.  A very nervous bird which was ready to fly when a Pied Wagtail landed nearby, or when the odd car passed by.
Common Sandpiper at Deopham 22nd August.  Note the brownish upperparts and the distinctive white 'hook' at the breast side which wraps around the folded wing.  The buff barring is still visible at some distance.
Compared to the similar Green Sandpiper, the Common Sandpiper appears browner, has a more hunched carriage, and has a distinctive area of white hooked around the folder wing.  The legs are pale green.  Delicate buff barring on the secondaries of this wader shows this is a juvenile bird.
Common Sandpiper at Deopham 22nd August.  Green and Common Sandpipers are the most likely 'similar looking' passage wader species to be encountered inland.  To eliminate confusion between the two species the Common Sandpiper has this very distinctive white wing-bar, the Green has an unmarked, dark upperwing.
In flight, the most distinctive feature separating this species from Green Sandpiper was seen, this was the very distinctive white wing bar.  The flight call is a sweet "swee wee wee".
Also seen at the muckheap was a couple of juvenile Pied Wagtails, also, pairs of Linnets occasionally visited to drink.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Watton Brook Valley at Little Cressingham, Norfolk

A drive home from work produced a couple of Swifts at Wicklewood, now becoming scarce as most have now departed for Africa.
Following work I made a visit to the Watton Brook Valley near Little Cressingham.  The time is approaching when the fencing, posts, and thick cover alongside the brook will hold migrant Chats, Flycatchers, Warblers, and Wagtails.
My visit this afternoon was fairly quiet with the exception of a very distant female Stonechat on fencing and posts.  Typical behaviour observed included the bird flying to the ground for a few seconds and then flying back to the fence/post to probably eat a small invertebrate it had caught in the grass.  Frequent wing-flicking was seen.  Although distant the bird appeared dull orangey brown on its breast with darker head and upperparts.  There was a hint of a small white patch on its secondaries.
Stonechats are short distant migrants with birds not wandering too far from their summer breeding haunts.  This bird was undoubtedly a breeder on a local Breckland heath.
Also seen was a single Song Thrush which flew directly overhead giving its distinctive "tic" call.
Back at home in Watton and another single Swift seen overhead late afternoon.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Bodney, Norfolk

A small patch of rough ground beside the Watton Brook Valley was my destination early this morning.  My intention was to find migrants, witness passage, and observe behaviour indicative of birds preparing for migration.
Whitethroat in typical late summer habitat at Bodney 19th August
The habitat visited on my patch this morning is a small area of permanent rough ground comprising of long grass, nettles, Ragwort, Umbellifer, and Elder, one of which is older and very heavily in fruit.
This part of my patch is usually productive for migrant birds, last August I had Redstart there.
I naturally focussed on the Elder bushes in this area and found 3 Whitethroats in this habitat, this included seeing the birds feeding upon Elderberries.  Also seen was 2 Chiffchaffs, again, seen in Elder, sometimes in close association with Whitethroat.  Whitethroats, as with other Warbler species have now changed their dietary requirements.  Insect prey was the main diet for Warblers throughout spring and summer, such food ensures a good nutritional value for young in the nest, now however, their diet has changed to soft fruits such as Elderberries, these high energy foods will ensure the birds have a good body weight for their forthcoming southerly bound migration.
Whitethroat in Elder at Bodney 19th August
The rough land with its variety of weeds attracted several Goldfinches, both adults and juveniles seen here.  Other common species seen included several Pied Wagtails, Dunnock, Wren, and Robins (2).
A number of Swallows seen low over the valley and surrounding areas searching for food, whilst 9+ birds heading purposefully south may have been passage birds.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Deopham Green, Norfolk

I arrived at Deopham Green with warm sunny spells and a fresh southerly wind, however, very threatening skies eventually brought driving rain.
A check of the muckheap which has recently produced a few Green Sandpipers today produced something different, a single, beautiful Snipe.  This very attractive wader fed in soft mud around water by probing with its long straight bill 'sewing machine' style, for invertebrate food.  The bird also spent time preening and resting by the water edge. 
Snipe at Deopham Green 18th August

Snipe at Deopham Green 18th August
Often seen in very good light between rain, the stunning head pattern was revealed, a pale crown stripe bordered either side by black lateral crown stripes, a broad buff supercillium, black lores, darkish eye stripe, which all gave a very conspicuous head pattern.  The upper parts are cryptic brown, and without optics blended very well against its background.  The underparts are white with flank barring.
This Snipe is undoubtedly a passage bird which has stopped off at this rich feeding ground in order to refuel before continuing its journey.
Also seen at this location today was 3+ Pied Wagtails (juveniles), a couple of visiting SwallowsWood Pigeons, and occasional pairs of Linnets.

Watton Brook Valley (early afternoon)

A fairly quiet visit with few migrants in the valley, however, an overhead westerly passage of 10+ Swallows is a typical movement for this date.
Hundreds of Crows roamed large fields of stubble, and in the valley, Wood Pigeons and 30+ Stock Doves were present.
A single Whitethroat was seen moving between thick waterside cover, sensibly keeping low in the moderate to fresh south-westerly wind.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Watton Brook Valley, Norfolk

What a cracking morning with a real autumnal feel to it, bright and cool (7 degrees at dawn), and a mist hanging over the valley.  Morning like this give a feel of expectation, especially as we now progress towards autumn migration.
This morning I spent just a short time visiting the valley as I had a midday appointment in Norwich, despite this it was quite a productive morning as the following list shows:

25+ Stock Doves
Wood Pigeon
1 Buzzard
1 Kingfisher
1 Stonechat (juvenile)
2 Whitethroats
Blackcap
1 Willow Warbler
Coal Tit (family party)
Great Tit
Goldcrest
40+ Linnets

Watton Brook
A short, static count at the Brook produced a single juvenile Stonechat.  Although quite close this young bird was almost always against the light, thus appearing in silhouetted form.  Despite this, the bird appeared typically dumpy with a short tail.  The plumage appeared dark and speckled with the feint hint of a small white wedged shaped patch on its secondaries.
Also here was 2 Whitethroats, one of which frequented a Bramble patch and attempted to feed upon a ripe berry.  The other was in bankside herbage.
A single Kingfisher flew along the valley and a single Wren was seen also.

A single Willow Warbler was in a roadside hedge at a locality where the species bred this year. The distinctive "hooweet" call frequently given.

Wooded Pit close to 'The Arms'.
Another short, static check of this small, mixed woodland habitat, which included some fine, mature Scots Pine specimens, produced a mobile family party of Coal Tits with Great Tit present also.
Blackcap was also heard here.
The adjacent field edges with an abundance of weedy strips held 40+ Linnets, good feeding here.
Coal Tit at Little Cressingham 11th August

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Deopham, Norfolk 1300-1330

A day of thick, low cloud with heavy persistent rain and pro-longed showers, and a fresh northerly wind.
A short check of a regularly visited muck-heap early afternoon produced a single Green Sandpiper by the waters edge, however, it flew off at 1324, climbing high and heading more or less south.  The distinctive dark wings contrasting strongly with the bright-white rump.
The poor conditions forced 3+ Swallows down low, making sweeps around the muck-heap and water for insect prey.
3 Pied Wagtails (juveniles) seen around the waters edge.  A small flock of 12+ Linnets visited the area.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

North Pickenham, Norfolk (Evidence of passage picking up)

This morning I visited Houghton-on-the-Hill, my migration watch-point.  My previous visit was on 28th July when there was little evidence of passage, however, this morning saw an increase in numbers of Warblers, most notably Whitethroats, which were found at various habitats in the area.  Although no great numbers of Whitethroats were seen, numbers are an increase on my most previous visit.  Numbers will become significantly greater as we progress through August.
The mornings first Whitethroat was found in Elder scrub where it was seen taking berries, another bird was seen searching a hedgerow nearby.  One was also seen skulking in cover in a churchyard.
Blackcaps were also seen and heard including a lovely male taking Elderberries.  Female and juvenile Blackcaps were also seen.  Also seen in the same Elder was a single Lesser Whitethroat, also feeding upon berries.
Red Kite near North Pickenham 5th August
Other species seen in the churchyard included a number of Blue Tits passing through, Coal Tit, 2 Nuthatches, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, and Bullfinch.  Overhead, a single Red Kite soared just above the tree canopy.
Interestingly, a single, small shrub bathed in early morning, warm sunshine held a single Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Blue and Great Tit, Chaffinch, a single Greenfinch, Robin (adult and juvenile), and Dunnock.  The Lesser Whitethroat sat preening for a while, the bright white underparts particularly conspicuous in the sunshine.
During the breeding season, Warblers are insectivorous birds, however, their diet changes now very much to various soft fruits which will become abundant in the next few weeks.  These fruits are taken in order to build energy reserves in readiness for their long migration south.