21st February 2016 – Back to the Brecks

Day 3 of another three day long weekend of tours today and we headed for the Brecks to wrap up the weekend. It had been forecast earlier in the week to be wet and windy again today, but although it was certainly the latter by the afternoon, it stayed totally dry today. Once again, the rain missed us completely.

We started with a quick walk round the arboretum at Lynford. As we set out from the car park, we could hear Nuthatch calling and Goldcrests singing. Both Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush were also in full song. A few Siskins zipped in and out of the trees. Just about the first birds we saw were a couple of Marsh Tits.

We walked up to the gate to have a look under the trees. The feeders were empty again and it didn’t look like they had been filled again since last weekend. There were still a few birds around. A Nuthatch was in and out repeatedly to the home-made ‘downpipe’ feeder. This seemed to be the last one with any food left in it. A Coal Tit had a novel approach and actually climbed into the feeder through one of the large holes, which had been opened up by the teeth of the local squirrels, presumably getting down into the bottom to get access to the few remaining seeds in there.

IMG_8233Nuthatch – only the ‘downpipe’ feeder appeared to have any food left

Once again, there was no sign of any Hawfinches here. They have only been seen here very occasionally this winter and it is not entirely clear why. It may be down to greater availability of food elsewhere in the forest after a mild winter, but it could also be that increased ringing activity and repeated attempts to catch the Hawfinches in order to colour ring them has only succeeded in disturbing them here. We could see all the ringing paraphernalia through the trees at the back, net posts and hides covered in camouflage netting, in the area the Hawfinches used to favour.

We had a quick walk round the rest of the arboretum,  but it was rather cold and quiet deeper in the trees. There was also lots of noise and disturbance, with loads of cars and people arriving to join one of the regular working parties here today. With a bit of brightness in the sky, we wanted to make sure we were in good time for the Goshawks today, so we didn’t linger here.

We made our way deeper into the Forest and walked out along one of the rides. It was typically quiet down through the dark stands of dense pines which make up the commercial forestry. As we got to the clearing, there was more life. We could hear birds singing – Woodlarks. They have a sadder, more melancholic song than the Skylark, which rings out across the forest clearings at this time of year.

We could see two Woodlarks perched up on a fence further along, so after a quick look through the scope we made our way over for a better look. Unfortunately, a cyclist came along the track before we could get there and the Woodlarks were off. Another two came up from the edge of the path and they dropped down into the grass the other side of the fence.

We walked over to the fence anyway and started to scan the trees beyond. A Common Buzzard flew low over the trees and landed in the tops. Then a Goshawk appeared from the trees nearby and started displaying above them, with exaggerated wingbeats. The next thing we knew, the female was up too and displaying as well. We could see the size difference between them, the male noticeably smaller when seen in the same view.

GoshawkGoshawk – a photo of one of the birds taken recently

The pair of Goshawks flew round for a while, both looking even more powerful than usual with the extra deep and slow flapping of display flight. As it passed over the trees, the male Goshawk suddenly noticed the Buzzard sitting in the top of a pine below him. He turned and dropped down vertically straight at it, pulling up at the last minute, then climbed up again above it. When he had regained some height, the Goshawk folded its wings and stooped down vertically again, this time almost knocking the Buzzard off its perch.

We watched the male Goshawk then fly off, low along the line of trees. He had stopped displaying now, but we could still appreciate the power in his wingbeats as he flew past. Needless to say, when we looked back the Buzzard had gone. Goshawks are known to kill Buzzards at times, so it had obviously decided to make itself scarce!

We turned our attention back to the Woodlarks. We had seen a pair drop back down on our side of the fence and a male was singing from the ground a bit further along from us. We got it in the scope quickly, getting a good look at the way the two supercilia, the pale stripes above the eye, meet in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck. Then it circled up and flew back out across the clearing singing. It dropped down to the ground a good distance away on its own. A little while later, when it circled up again, we could hear the female Woodlark calling quietly, still near to where it had been perched earlier. We soon located her on the ground and had a good look at her through the scope before she flew off across the clearing towards him.

WoodlarkWoodlark – a photo of one of the pair taken recently

We had hoped for some more action from the Goshawks, but while we were standing there the wind had strengthened considerably and once the Woodlarks had flown off it all went a little quiet. The female Goshawk did circle up again briefly above the trees, but never gained much height and dropped down again out of view fairly quickly. The group was keen to keep moving, so we decided to walk back.

Despite the blustery wind, it was a decidedly mild day. A large queen Bumblebee flew across the clearing while we were standing there and a Common Toad crawled across the ride on our way back. Clearly spring is just around the corner, although we are still forecast at least one more cold snap yet.

P1170662Common Toad – on its way somewhere across the ride

We had hoped to catch up with the Great Grey Shrike today, but it has become decidedly erratic in its appearances in recent weeks. With a short time to spare before lunch, we thought it worth a shot and had a quick walk round the edge of one of its favoured clearings. It was a bit windy out there and perhaps unsurprisingly there was no sign of it. A pair of Stonechats were keeping low down in the bushes in the most sheltered corner.

We had lunch round at Santon Downham. While we were eating, a flock of Redpolls flew over the car park and landed in the trees beyond. We got them in the scope and confirmed they were all Lesser Redpolls. They were very mobile, and kept circling round and landing in the the tops of different trees.

IMG_8247Lesser Redpolls – a flock of nine landed in the treetops at lunchtime

After lunch, we had a quick walk down along the side of the river. A couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew out of the trees by the bridge and a Green Woodpecker called from deep in the woods further along. A Treecreeper was feeding low down on the trees beside the path, flying ahead of us as we walked along. A Little Grebe was diving along the far edge. Otherwise, it was rather quiet along here this afternoon.

A dog came running down the opposite bank and leapt down to the water’s edge to bark at a family of Mute Swans on the river. The swans were decidedly unimpressed and the two adults swam in front of the juveniles and hissed at he dog, which seemed to change its mind about jumping into the water after them. A minute or so later, its owner appeared calling it and the dog ran off again.

P1170667Mute Swans – the adults saw off a dog which came after them

We didn’t go very far, but decided to head round to Lynford again to try our luck there instead. As we walked down along the path, the feeders were pretty deserted. Down at the bridge, someone had put lots of food on the posts as usual and a variety of tits were coming down to feed. As well as the Blue Tits and Great Tits, there were several Marsh Tits and Coal Tits darting in and out. A Nuthatch was calling but would not come out with us standing there, and we could hear Siskins in the alders nearby.

We carried on to the paddocks in the hope of catching up with a Hawfinch, but it was rather exposed out in the trees with the wind whistling through now and all was disappointingly quiet. We stood and scanned for a while, in the hope that a Hawfinch might be feeding on the ground below and fly up into the trees, but it was clearly not to be. However, while we were waiting we heard one call. A quick look over to our right and we saw that a Hawfinch was flying in across the back of the paddocks from the direction of the arboretum. We watched it fly across in front of the pines and then it turned and flew up towards them. We thought it was going to land in the pines, but unfortunately it dropped down vertically and disappeared into the trees.

We walked round that way in the hope that we might be able to find it perched somewhere, or that it might have another fly round. But the tops of the pines were being whipped back and forth by the gusty wind now and it had obviously decided to seek shelter lower down. We waited a few minutes in the hope that another Hawfinch might fly in, but there was just the one today. We decided to call it a day.

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