Another Brecks Tour today. The weather was glorious – the early mist burnt off quickly and it was mostly sun and blue skies, with just some hazy cloud at times. Perfect for Brecks birding.
Our first stop was for Stone Curlews. We picked them up from the car, before we even pulled up – two of them standing in a recently sown arable field. We parked up round the corner and walked back quietly, so we could get them in the scope through a gap in the hedge. A great start.
It got even better. While we watched them, the male Stone Curlew started to display, bowing slowly to the female with tail raised high. We watched them for some time walking around in the field.
We drove on and stopped by a tall, old Hawthorn hedge. We could hear a couple of Tree Sparrows cheeping, and see them hopping around in the bushes, but we were looking into the sun. We walked round to the other side and could see one perched up on top. It flew across in front of us and landed high up in an oak tree. Nice birds to see, as they are getting increasingly scarce.
We wanted to get to Lynford Arboretum before it got too busy and there was only one other car in the car park when we arrived. As we walked across to the Arboretum, there were lots of birds singing – Marsh Tit, Siskin, Nuthatch and Goldcrest. A Mistle Thrush flew into the trees. We walked up to the gate and stopped to watch the Bramblings under the feeders – two females together. But there was no sign of any Hawfinches.
Then we heard some quiet ticking from the back of the trees and saw a Hawfinch fly off towards the Arboretum. We set off after it and could hear two birds calling from the tops, but they were impossible to see. We chased round after the calls for a few minutes and eventually saw one fly into the top of a bare tree. This time we were able to get the scope on it, perched unobtrusively in amongst the branches. Great – another of the day’s targets achieved. It only stayed a couple of minutes and then was off again.
All the time we were looking for the Hawfinches, we could hear a Firecrest singing. With the first now seen, we set our sights on the second. It was not hard to find, but would not stay still at first. This bird has taken a liking to one of the local Goldcrests, and seems to spend most of its time chasing round after it, singing constantly. Eventually, the Firecrest stopped long enough for us to get a good look at it. We noted the well marked face pattern with black eye-stripe and white supercilium, and the bronzey neck-side patch. Then it dropped down towards us and landed in a small sapling, singing and looking down at us – such a super-smart bird!
With such glorious weather, we wanted to move on and look for Goshawks. We walked back round via the gate and as we did so, we could hear that electric ticking again from the trees. Another Hawfinch, a female, was sitting up in full view, calling. This time it stayed a little longer and we got even better views of it.
It dropped down into the trees above the alley beyond the gate, so we thought we would have a quick look to see if it was down on the ground. There was no sign of it from the gate, but looking down amongst the leaves further along, we found a smart male Hawfinch down feeding. Once again, we got it in the scope – (nut!)cracking views this time. We all admired its huge and powerful bill, much brighter chestnut brown head and contrasting grey nape.
Now it really was time to tear ourselves away. Reluctantly, we headed back to the car and drove off into the heart of the Forest. We walked out into the trees along a ride and found ourselves in a clearing. We could hear Woodlarks singing, but they were a little far away and we couldn’t see them. We stood on the ride and scanned around us, and eventually we saw one on the ground in the clearing, sitting on a mound and preening. We had a good look at it in the scope.
There was blue sky above us, but despite it being sunny, there was very little raptor action at first. However, it seemed to warm up a little as we stood and waited. Then a pair of Common Buzzards started to circle up over the forest at the back of the clearing. A Sparrowhawk flew across between the banks of trees. More Common Buzzards appeared further off in the distance. Then a Goshawk appeared. It circled up but it was a long way off, in the heat haze. Still, it was nice to see one.
A pair of Woodlarks flew over and landed down in the clearing in front of us. Then a third bird flew in from the other direction. It attempted to land on a fence post but was quickly seen off by one of the pair. It dropped down on the other side of the ride and walked towards us. We got a really good look at it through the scope as it fed quietly.
Then another Goshawk appeared, circling up into the clouds, and it drifted right overhead across the clearing. We could see it was big and powerful, with very white underparts. As we were watching it, another Goshawk flew towards it from the other side and the two of them circled round not far away from each other high above us, before peeling off in opposite directions.
What a great morning! On the way back to the car we stopped to admire another pair of Woodlarks feeding along a ride. At one point, they flew up and landed on a deer fence, giving us great views.
There were lots of butterflies on the wing as well, emerging in the lovely warm weather. During the day, we saw several Brimstones, Peacocks, a Comma and a Small Tortioseshell. It really felt like spring today.
With most of the main targets for the day already seen, we had a think about what to do next. After lunch, we decided to have a walk along the river at Santon Downham. It was the middle of the day, sunny and warm, but it is always a nice place to walk and there is a chance of some different birds. It used to be a very good place for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but they have become very scarce along here – possibly only one female left. And anyone who has ever looked for woodpeckers knows you have to do it early in the morning when they are drumming, so that was a no go. Or was it?
We walked along beside the railway line and cut across to the river bank. As we did so, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, which gave us some early encouragement, but the further we went, the quieter it got. We heard the odd Nuthatch, a Green Woodpecker call once and a Marsh Tit singing, but that was it. There are often Mandarins along the river, but there was not even any sign of those today – again, early is normally best. Similarly, we didn’t see a Kingfisher, not a peep. We decided to walk a little further along, in the hope we might find one along the quieter stretch of the river or possibly a Grey Wagtail.
We were about to give up and head back when we heard a shrill call – ‘kee kee kee kee’ from the other side of the river. It was instantly recognisable, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but it was somewhere deep within a dense block of Alder. There was no way we could see it. We stood on the bank for a while looking, then moved a bit further along to try a different angle. It seemed to go quiet for ages, before it finally called again. Once again we scanned the trees, but there was very little movement, and another long period of silence followed. It was a lost cause. We decided to give up – it was great to hear it, much more than we were expecting anyway at this time of day.
Just as we turned to head back, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called yet again, and this time we managed to triangulate the direction. We stopped and had another scan and this time we picked it up feeding quietly, working its way out along the branches before flying to the next tree. There was no way we could get it in the scope, but we got a good look at it through binoculars. At one point, we could see it hanging upside down on a horizontal branch! A female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, we could see the ladder-striping on the back, and the black crown. What a surprise – what a great bird to catch up with.
We didn’t get any photos, but the same bird was showing very well yesterday at the more usual time of very early in the morning – so here’s a photo and some video of it then.
We headed back along the river bank, elated. Now all the birds seemed to come out. A Kingfisher zipped past. Another Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed in the trees next to the path. Then a pair of Mandarin swam out from the river bank and, rather than flying off as they usually do, proceeded to swim right past us. Stunning.
We also stopped to admire a couple of Common Lizards basking on a fallen tree trunk. They were enjoying the sun, too.
After all that, we still had time to go looking for one more target. We drove back through the Forest and walked along another ride to another clearing. As soon as we got there, we picked up the Great Grey Shrike, sitting atop one of its favourite perches. We got the scope on it and had a good look, despite the fact that it was distant. It seemed like it might have been a good idea – as we walked round to the other side of the clearing, there was no sign of it.
We stood and scanned for a while. A Woodlark was singing and a pair of Stonechats perched up on a row of old tree stumps. Just as we were about to give up, the Great Grey Shrike appeared again. It flew back out into the clearing and perched on another row of stumps. We watched it for some time – it even flew down and caught a bumble bee, returning to its perch to devour it. At one point, it flew towards us and landed quite close. Then it flew back out towards Grime’s Graves and started to hover over the grass just like a dwarf monochrome Kestrel. What a stunning bird.
Then it was time to call it a day. But what a fantastic day it had been, what a list of birds we had seen!