A midweek group day tour in the Brecks today. It was a grey and misty start, but we were told it was going to brighten up through the morning. And thankfully, for once they were right!
Our first stop was down by the river at Santon Downham. A couple of Greenfinches were singing wheezily in the car park. A Nuthatch kept coming back to the feeders in one of the gardens. As we got to the bridge, a Grey Wagtail flew over calling. As we walked down by the river,we could hear a Woodlark calling away towards the trees. A Chiffchaff was singing in the distance – there are good numbers back on territory now, a sure sign that spring is not far away. A bright male Yellowhammer was perched high in a tree doing a passable approximation of ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’.
There were several finches in the bushes and trees by the path. High up in the tops of a dead poplar, we had our first look at a couple of Bramblings. We could hear lots of Siskin calling as they flew overhead, but a little further along we found several coming down to drink. We stopped and watched them, the bright yellow and green males chasing after the duller grey and streaky females.
Siskin – several were coming down to drink in the pools by the path
Once again, we didn’t have too long here today, but we hoped we might get lucky and run into one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. However, when we got down to their favoured area we found several people looking and the news that they had not been seen since first thing. Several Green Woodpeckers laughed at us from the trees and we managed to find one hiding behind the trunk of a tree, just coming out to show itself from time to time.
Green Woodpecker – hiding behind a tree trunk
We walked along beside the river for a while, past the assembled crowds. Several small groups of Lesser Redpolls flew over calling. Flocks of Redwings speezed as they flew through the trees. A Stock Dove flew in and perched up in a tree. When we turned to come back, most of the other people were still staring blankly at the trees. We were half way back when we bumped into someone who told us he had heard a woodpecker call from the other side of the river a few minutes earlier. We stood and listened for about 10 minutes, but there was no further sign.
The sun was out now and it was starting to warm up nicely. A slight detour took us round to where we had heard the Woodlark call earlier, but we couldn’t find it here now. A couple of Common Buzzards circled up above the trees. With the improvement in the weather, we decided to make our way off to look for Goshawks, so we headed back to the car. However, by the time we got to a convenient spot overlooking the Forest, it had clouded over a bit again.
It was a bit cool at first, with a fresh breeze blowing. There were several Common Buzzards of various shades circling over the pines, but they were not gaining much height today. A Sparrowhawk circled with them for a while, before drifting off east.
After a while, we noticed all the Woodpigeons come scattering out of the trees just to our right. They settled down, but then a couple of minutes later the same thing happened again. The third time it happened and this time, the culprit emerged too – a young Goshawk. It was a juvenile, born and raised last summer, darker grey brown above orange toned below. It circled round in front of the trees as the pigeons disappeared off in all directions, before dropping down behind a line of tall pines. We thought it might come out again the other side, but it didn’t immediately re-emerge.
That was a great start, so we thought we might linger a little longer and see if anything else happened. While we stood waiting, we took advantage of the situation to have an early lunch. Obviously, as soon as we poured a cup of tea or got out a sandwich, a Goshawk appeared again!
Goshawk – this juvenile showed very well today
The juvenile Goshawk was on show for much of the time from then on. It circled up with a Common Buzzard for a time, so we could see just how big it was. It started to display, flying across above the trees with exaggerated wingbeats. Eventually one of the local adult Goshawks had obviously decided enough was enough and came out of the trees. Pale grey above and much whiter below, the immediate thing which struck us all was the bulge of white around the base of its tail, almost looking like a harrier with a white rump! This is part of Goshawk display, when the birds puff out their undertail coverts, know as ‘tail flagging’. It was really quite striking.
The adult Goshawk disappeared back into the trees, as it seemed to have succeeded in its mission. The juvenile Goshawk drifted off and away to the east. A short while later, we picked up what was presumably the same adult Goshawk again, a bit further back. It circled for a while, again with its undertail coverts puffed out, before diving down into the trees.
Having enjoyed very good views of Goshawk, and eaten our lunch, we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. There had been no reports of the Great Grey Shrike at Cockley Cley this morning, but given that it has seemed settled in the area for the last few days, we thought it would be worth a look.
As we walked up along the track, there was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike where we had seen it on Saturday. However, looking across above the trees we spotted another Goshawk. This was a big female and she was busy displaying, flying over the tops of the pines with very deep, stiff wingbeats. She headed off north and we could see why – another Goshawk was displaying away in that direction. The two of them flew around for a couple of minutes before the first female flew back towards us, giving us a great view, before disappearing away over the trees. Our third and fourth Goshawks of the day!
The Great Grey Shrike has been feeding in several clearings around here in recent days, so we started to make our way round to another spot it has favoured. As we walked along the path, we heard a Woodlark singing. It was quiet and seemed to be a long way off but they are great ventriloquists. We stopped immediately and started to look for it, just as it flew up from the verge right next to us. It flew up into a small tree not far away, where we could get it in the scope.
Woodlark – flew up from the verge to a small tree in front of us
When the Woodlark flew down to the ground again, we started to walk round past it. The next thing we knew a second bird flew up with the first, from right beside the path. It seemed the female had been feeding quietly on the verge next to us all the time we had been watching the female in the tree! They both flew out into the middle of the clearing.
As we walked down along another ride, past a small plantation, a white shape immediately caught our eye. It was the Great Grey Shrike. We got it in the scope and had a great look at it, pale grey and white, with black wings and tail and a black bandit mask.
Great Grey Shrike – still here, feeding around a young pine plantation
We watched the Great Grey Shrike for a while as it perched in the top of a small pine, staring intently at the ground, before flicking over to another tree. After a couple of moves, it obviously spotted something because it flew down to the ground and came up again with something in its bill, which it gulped down before we could reposition ourselves to see what it was.
Eventually, we decided to leave the Great Grey Shrike to its hunting, and set off back to the car. A Tawny Owl hooted from the trees next to the path, despite it being early in the afternoon – it is not unknown for them to hoot during the day. A Chiffchaff was singing from a small plantation nearby.
As we walked back, the two Woodlarks were back on the grass verge next to the path again. This time, we heard them call and looked down immediately, but they flew off quickly, out into the clearing the other side. It was turning into a real Woodlark day now though – they are just like buses! A little further on, we heard calling again and looked over just as three Woodlarks took off from out in the clearing. One of them burst into song and hovered round over the clearing singing its melancholy song. Almost back to the car, and we heard yet another Woodlark which was singing high over the trees next to the ride this time.
Our final destination for the day was at Lynford Arboretum. As we walked down the path towards the feeders, a Goldcrest was singing from the larches. Several Siskins were flying round and landing in the tops. The trees by the feeders were rather quiet at first, but as we stood there for a few minutes, various birds appeared. A Nuthatch flew in and started jabbing away at the fatballs. A Coal Tit came in to one of the feeders. A male Brambling dropped down for a drink in the water bath.
It was at this point that we heard Hawfinches calling. The sound seemed to be coming from through the trees at the back, so we made our way a little further along. As we did so, a Hawfinch flew out of the trees calling and over towards the edge of the Arboretum. It landed in the top of a tall, bare deciduous tree, followed quickly by another. We got them in the scope and had a quick look at them, perched in the branches, before they flew off again.
Back at the chicken run, there seemed to be even more Hawfinches calling now and we looked across to find at least three of them were still here, in the blackthorn, half hidden in all the white blossom. We could see two brighter males and a duller grey-brown female. They were feeding on buds and the two males flew up higher into the trees where we could see them picking at them.
Hawfinch – feeding on buds in the trees today
We had a great look at the Hawfinches, the bright chestnut males looked particularly stunning in the afternoon sun. Eventually, two of them disappeared back into the trees beyond, while one flew up into the tops of the trees above the feeders. We thought it might come down to drink, so we walked back to the gate, but there was no sign of it. The trees around the chicken run had gone quiet too, so we decided to walk down towards the paddocks.
As we arrived at the bridge, we could hear Common Crossbills calling and looked out towards the paddock beyond to see three in the top of a dead tree. We made our way out of the trees to get the light behind us, and got them in the scope. There were two streaky juveniles, with not yet fully grown and crossed bills, and a rather orange male with them. They stayed there for several minutes, climbing around in the branches and picking at the bark, before flying up into the poplars. Up in the trees, we watched as the male responded to the begging of one of the youngsters by feeding it – some delicious, regurgitated, part digested pine seeds!
Common Crossbill – a streaky juvenile
Another family of four Crossbills dropped down into the same dead tree next. This time there was a female with a brighter red male and two different juveniles. It has obviously been a productive season already for the Crossbills in the Brecks, with so many juveniles around. They have certainly been great to watch. Eventually, all the Crossbills flew across into the pines.
While we were watching the Crossbills, a Hawfinch flew across over our heads and landed in the trees out in the middle of the paddocks. When a second flew out too, we decided to walk along to see if we could see them there. Unfortunately, we got there just as they flew off, but there were also lots of Bramblings and Redwings in the trees too.
We could hear Crossbills ‘glipping’ again, and looked up into a pine tree next to the path to see a male picking at the cones. We had a great view of it through the scope, we could even see it using its tongue as it pulled the seeds out from between the scales of the cone!
Common Crossbill – this male was feeding in the pines by the path
When someone else walked up to join us, we pointed out the Crossbill and they in turn told us about a Long-tailed Tits’ nest in the bushes nearby. We walked back and found it, an amazing structure of moss and lichen, held together with cobwebs, woven in amongst the branches of some brambles. It was not quite finished, with a large hole still in the top, but as we stood and watched we could see the Long-tailed Tits bringing more nest material and weaving it into the structure. Amazing!
Long-tailed Tit – working on the construction of its nest
As we walked back to the bridge, two more Hawfinches flew out of the poplars calling and disappeared away across the paddocks, heading off to roost. We had not stopped to look on our way down, but there was food out on the bridge so we stood for a few minutes and watched. Several tits came in to grab some food and we had great views of a couple of Marsh Tits here.
Marsh Tit – coming to food down at the bridge
It had been another exciting day in the Brecks and the group were tired out now, so we made our way back to the car for a welcome sit down on the ride back.