Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Red Deer in Breckland, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Plans to ban Dogs from a Norfolk Beach

I have a lifelong passion for birds and birding, equally, I have had a lifetime passion for dogs. I have read recently about plans to ban dogs from a Norfolk Beach, I have written about this before and feel the need to write further on the subject.

Sadly, as it is often the case, it is the small minority of dog owners who fail to control their dogs and clean up after them.  It is sad to have to write that this is not the case with humans, the so-called most intelligent of species, when we see the damage and litter left behind on a single day trip to the coast, multiply these single days into several days, weeks, and then months, then we must revisit the issue and look who should really be banned from beaches, especially those of sensitive wildlife value.

Visit any beach following a day out by lots of humans and see the waste and rubbish left behind, yes, there is also some evidence of dog waste, but this in no way compares to the lasting damage left by humans.

I started this post by establishing my lifetime passion for birds and birding, and I always emphasise I am NOT a twitcher.  I now turn to the twitcher community where evidence of unruly behaviour and criminal activity occurs.  Burnham Overy Staithe Sept. 2017 evidences this when 50 twitchers illegally entered a field owned by the Holkham Estate in an attempt to see a rare Warbler which undoubtedly wanted to be left in peace.  This particular event saw cattle fencing knocked down and reeds trampled, as well as trespassing on private land.
More recently than this during COVID lockdown, twitchers thought it ok to break national guidelines in an attempt to see a rare bird. Some twitcher types complained about dog walkers potentially disturbing the bird, however, they did not challenge their own behaviour which included trampling over sensitive marshland habitat.  It was sad to see that the Bird Report failed to report on these rule breakers in their account on said bird.

Further evidence of poor human behaviour included those who think it ok to approach Seals too closely, as well as those offshore who ride high speed machines far too close to Seal colonies.
 Who should we be banning from our beaches? Should all dogs be banned because a minority of dog owners cannot control their dogs or clean up after them, or should we be banning humans who leave vast amounts of litter, discard plastic items, discarding of needles causing potentially life threatening concerns, cause disturbance, egg thieves, those who engage in criminal activity in order to pursue their quarry, those who disrespect the countryside and coast, and those who find it so difficult to follow simple rules and guidelines.  It seems quite clear to me that it is the human element that is the real problem here, and it is indeed humans who should be banned from beaches, NOT dogs.

Our beaches and countryside is for all to enjoy, not just a select few who want to pursue their interest without others getting in their way.

Once again, Dogs are easy targets because they don't have a voice, I therefore like to speak for them by saying dogs are not the problem, it is human behaviour.  It is quite obvious that it is humans who should be banned from sensitive beaches.      

Monday, 18 April 2022

Buckenham Marsh and Strumpshaw Fen 13th April 2022 (with Andy Egan)

I was up at 0230 ready to depart for Strumpshaw Fen to meet up with my very good friend Andy Egan for a mornings birding at this very special habitat for birds and other wildlife.  I arrived at Strumpshaw at 0415 in the early morning darkness and met Andy to the calls of a few Tawny Owls.

Our Route
From Strumpshaw, Andy and myself set off for a walk along the still dark lanes to Buckenham Marsh. The air was beautiful to breathe, it was calm and quite mild.  It was here that we saw the setting moon which appeared to have a stunning orange glow to it which Andy got a lovely shot of.  We walked the track between the marsh, eventually arriving at the beautiful River Yare.
We then walked back along the track to meet up with the road and onto Strumpshaw Fen where we were to spend a few hours watching the delights it had to offer. We visited Tower Hide for spectacular views over the water and marsh.  On our return we also visited Fen and Reception hide.

The first part of our walk in the early morning darkness took us along the road from Strumpshaw to Buckenham Marsh, along this initial walk a few Tawny Owls, most were males with a female sometimes heard.  
Once on Buckenham Marsh we walked the track to the River Yare.  A hint of dawn light beginning to appear in the eastern sky.  At least 2 Cetti's Warblers sang with one close bird near the river.  Wildfowl calling on the marsh included the sweet whistle of a male Wigeon.   
Walking back along the track towards the station at Buckenham two Sedge Warblers sang from within Bramble cover and Elder.  To our right, a Chinese Water Deer casually strolled over the marsh.  
Upon leaving Buckenham Marsh we heard the song of a Whitethroat coming from a Bramble patch by the rail track.  Close by next to a dyke another Chinese Water Deer and Muntjac were seen.
Andy and I then entered Strumpshaw Fen where Andy predicted a Barn Owl would be seen, and having stopped by a bench to overlook the marsh, sure enough, a beautiful Barn Owl was watched hunting. Also here, a Marsh Tit was singing in woodland, and a Great White Egret was briefly seen in flight.  The walk towards Tower Hide along the River Yare produced several Willow Warblers on territory in willows and reedbed scrub.
We then continued our walk through the marsh and made for Tower Hide, on route, several Cetti's Warblers were in song.

Tower Hide, what a fantastic place to stop and overview the broad and the extensive marshland beyond. The light was very good indeed giving excellent visibility.
Garganey at Strumpshaw Fen 13th April

An initial overview from the hide revealed several wildfowl species including Gadwall, Teal, and Greylag Geese.  The noisiest birds however, was several Black-headed Gulls, one which was seen collecting nesting material.  To our distant right, another Sedge Warbler was heard in song.
On the water was at least 3 Garganey, a stunning migratory dabbling Duck which arrives with us from Africa usually in March.  The male Garganey is a stunning and unmistakable Duck species with its brown head and distinctive cream head stripe.
Marsh Harriers were seen from the hide hunting over the marsh, a distant female was sitting on a bush within the reedbed.
Having left Tower Hide, Andy and I made our way slowly back to the reception area of Strumpshaw Fen, on route we heard more Willow and Cetti's Warblers, and Marsh Harriers continued to feature as the most frequently seen raptor species.   Another Chinese Water Deer was seen on the marsh.

Finally, back at the car park, it had turned out quite warm in sheltered spots, but to be perfectly honest, whatever the conditions it is just so therapeutic to get out doing something I love with a very dear friend who has always been there for me in troubled times.  Andy, thank you so much for a wonderful morning, as always, I thoroughly enjoyed your company and I really look forward to our next meeting. 


Saturday, 16 April 2022

North Norfolk Coast 14th April 2022

 At 0700 on 14th April, my good friend Matt Stewart and myself arrived at Wells-next-the-Sea for a mornings walk which would take us along a small section of the North Norfolk Coast path and some beautiful inland lanes which are often overlooked by birders and walkers.

Our Route 
Beginning at Wells, Matt and I walked east along the North Norfolk Coast path to as far as the car park at Greenway, Stiffkey.  We walked along Greenway to Stiffkey for a coffee break, and to plan our next move. 
North Norfolk Coast path between Wells and Stiffkey.  Blackcap and Whitethroat here.

We then walked along Bridge Street leaving Stiffkey behind us and onto Wighton Road.  The initial long climb was a challenge, but worth it as once we reached the brow of the hill the views of this rolling landscape with its narrow lanes was spectacular.  
Wighton Road, Stiffkey. Looking towards Warham

The long descent towards Binham Road at Warham was equally beautiful, and not the typical landscape a visiting stranger to Norfolk would expect to see in that Norfolk is certainly not flat.  At the bottom of the descent we stopped for a while to take in the lovely babbling stream which passes through the meadows and under the road bridge and ford.  
Viewed from Wighton Road where Water Rail seen

Continuing our walk, we entered the beautiful village of Warham where once again we stopped to take in the stream where on one of the trees over the water a rope and tyre was suspended, a typical idyllic scene where children may play on a hot summers day.. We departed Warham and headed North along the Stiffkey Road, another gentle climb, reaching the coast road and crossing onto Cocklestrand Drove. We continued along the Drove until we met the North Norfolk Coast path, turning west and back to Wells, by which time walkers, families, and some beautiful dogs, were out enjoying the warm sunny conditions. 

From the start of our walk the ubiquitous and ever-noisy Oystercatchers and Redshanks were calling on the saltmarsh with one Redshank watched performing song-flight.  North of the sea wall on the scrape, good numbers of Avocet present on the shoreline and in bushes and scrub closer to the path both Cetti's and Sedge Warblers sang, with the latter performing its conspicuous song-flight.  Both Blackcap and Chiffchaffs were singing in suitable habitat.  
Approaching Stiffkey, another Blackcap singing, this time on an outer branch and in full sun, beautiful. Two Whitethroats were found in song. This beautiful Sylvia species is known colloquially in Norfolk as 'Nettlecreeper', a very apt name for this skulker.
On the saltmarsh, at least 6 Spoonbills seen with one group of 3 preening birds quite close to us.  Little Egrets were seen, including one close bird searching muddy creeks for food.  A distant male Marsh Harrier hunted over the saltmarsh. 
Little Egret on saltmarsh 14th April (Photo by Matt Stewart)

A short coffee break at the Greenway car park at Stiffkey was spent watching a delightful male Swallow flying around us and collecting mud for the nest.

Following our short coffee break Matt and I headed into Stiffkey village for a light breakfast. Whilst walking along the River Stiffkey a Little Owl seen briefly in flight.  Whilst in the beautiful surroundings of Stiffkey stores Greenfinches were heard in song.
Before leaving Stiffkey we stopped at the bridge on Bridge Street to look at the River Stiffkey, whilst here I witnessed behaviour by a Blackbird which I have never seen before since becoming interested in birds in the mid 1960's.  A female Blackbird was flying close to the surface of the water and very briefly skimmed the surface, then continued flying to a branch when it washed and preened itself.
Having left Stiffkey we continued along the gentle climb on Wighton Road accompanied by singing Blackcap whilst in adjoining fields an Oystercatcher fed and a male Marsh Harrier hunted above crops.
When the Wighton Road levelled out into open rolling countryside Linnets were the dominant species as they danced along the taller sprays of hedgerow.  Another Whitethroat was found in song.  The road then descended towards a ford over a babbling stream, here, I very briefly saw a Water Rail in flight between dense cover.  

Matt and I then walked along the Binham Road towards the beautiful village of Warham where another Whitethroat was singing in roadside hedge.  Leaving Warham on the Stiffkey Road a further Whitethroat was singing.
We crossed the coast road and walked along Cocklestrand Drove where several Butterfly species were seen including a couple of  Common Blue and a lovely Brimstone too.
The final part of the walk began at the Cocklestrand Drove/North Norfolk Coast path junction. We walked west along the North Norfolk Coast path where Whitethroat was again encountered.  To our right on the saltmarsh a calling Whimbrel was seen well as it flew away from us to settle on the marsh. Avocets were seen on the return walk with 3 birds crossing the path in front of us, such beautiful and delicate looking birds. In a nearby bush a Sedge Warbler sang then launched himself into his conspicuous display flight to advertise his presence.

As we entered Wells at the end of our walk, lots of visitors were enjoying themselves along the harbour wall either fishing for crabs, or having fish and chips, and of course lots of beautiful dogs to say hello to.

We arrived back at the car park having walked 10.5 miles.  I must thank Matt Stewart , firstly for driving me to Wells, and secondly, for his great company.  Thank you so much Matt, we will do it again soon.

Friday, 11 March 2022


 Not too many years ago, Ravens were considered a very rare bird here in Norfolk.  Since 2019 I have seen Ravens on my Breckland patch, usually appearing as pairs or single birds, however, in February this year, I saw 3 Ravens together.  Initially, calls were heard, which to me sounded like a distinctive "glock".  Soon all 3 birds appeared in full view and were engaged in chasing and tumbling behaviour, demonstrating great agility on the wing.

Ravens 27 February 2022 (A third bird was following)

Raven 27th February 2022

Saturday, 6 November 2021

Male Sparrowhawk in the garden 29 October.

Sparrowhawks are regular visitors to my Watton garden, and indeed are frequently seen overhead, including displaying in spring.
On the 20th October a male Sparrowhawk entered our garden and took a House Sparrow.  The raptor began to strip its prize of its feathers and then proceeded t consume the Sparrow either in small pieces, or sometimes in larger pieces which were thrown back and eventually swallowed.  After its feed, the Sparrowhawk proceeded to wipe its bill clean on the damp grass, this was followed by the bird sitting still for some time to digest its meal.

The male Sparrowhawk is somewhat smaller than the female of the species, what it lacks in size it makes up in plumage colours.  The upperparts are blue-grey, this contrasts with the reddish barring on the breast and underparts.  The iris is yellow, the cere is yellow as are the long, thin legs.  The vent and undertail feathers are pure white. 


On the 20th October I was doing odd jobs in the garden when I heard the familiar clatter of panicking Wood Pigeons, I thought Sparrowhawk, but upon looking up a female Goshawk crashed the party and sent Wood Pigeons scattering.  The bird momentarily went out of view before emerging from behind my garden hedge and flying away west without prey.  I was about 30 feet from the Goshawk at its closest to me.
I have encountered Goshawks on a few occasions both in Watton, and from my garden.