21st Feb 2018 – Winter or Spring, #2

Day 2 of a two day Private Tour. We were heading down to the Brecks today. It was meant to be a brighter day, even with some sunny intervals, but it remained rather stubbornly misty and grey. Still, it stayed mostly dry and we made the best of it.

Our first destination for the day was Santon Downham. As we walked down towards the river, a group of finches in the trees behind the cottages included a single Brambling with the Chaffinches in tree. Lots of tits were coming and going at the feeders by the road.

As we walked down along the path beside the river, three Siskins were feeding on the ground on the path. A Song Thrush was singing its complex and varied song from high in the alders and a Reed Bunting was delivering its more modest song from out in the. reeds. Lots of birds are singing now – signs that hopefully spring is not far away. A Marsh Tit was above our heads singing in the poplars and Nuthatches were piping along here too.

Siskin

Siskin – feeding on the riverbank path again

There had been no sign of any Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers that morning, but as we walked up along the bank we heard one call on the other side of the river, in the dense tangle of alder trees. We called a few other people who were further along the bank over to join us and set about trying to find it. It took a few minutes but someone managed to spot it, seeing it move in the top of one of the trees deep in.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker almost immediately flew left – landing in the top of another tree a little further back. It was really hard to find if you weren’t watching for the movement. We just managed to get the scope on it, but it flew again before everyone could get onto it. We could see it was the male, with a red crown.

Over the next 45 minutes or so we tried to keep track of it. The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was calling but only very occasionally. By following the sound, we had several more fleeting views, but it was feeding some way back in the trees and very hard to see. We hoped it might work its way back towards the river bank.

It is a beautiful spot along the river here and there were other birds to see while we watched and waited. A large flock of Redwings flew up from the wet paddocks beyond the alders and perched up in a tall poplar where we could get the scope on them. There were lots of Siskins chattering away in the trees and flying back and forth. Three Great Spotted Woodpeckers chased each other through trees and gave us much better views, unlike their smaller cousins.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called again, deep in the trees still. We had another glimpse of it as it flicked across left. Then it went quiet once more. We decided to head off and look for something else.

One of the group had been struggling with a pre-existing leg injury, and had opted out of the first walk this morning. So we decided to have a gentle walk down to the river at St Helens next. It was rather quiet here this morning. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were feeding in the cultivated field by the car park. A slow walk down to the footbridge produced a couple of Little Grebes on the river.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of several on the river at St Helens

We had been hoping that the weather would brighten up through this morning, as had been forecast, but it was still stubbornly grey and misty. As we headed out towards the forest, we stopped to look at a field sown with seed mix. As we got out of the car, we flushed a couple of Grey Partridge from the edge of the field by road, which flew off calling noisily. The Red-legged Partridges were not quite so shy. A Yellowhammer was calling from the hedge but there were not many birds actually in the seed crop today.

The neighbouring field is bare, and the Linnets were all out in the middle today. A Mistle Thrush was feeding with them. One of the group spotted a Red Kite landing in one of the trees at the back. We got it in the scope for a closer look, and found a second Red Kite there too. On a day like today, it was not surprising to find raptors just sitting around in the mist rather than flying around.

Red Kite

Red Kite – one of two sitting in the trees in the mist

Despite the weather, we decided to have an early lunch and try our luck with Goshawks. Grey, misty and still are not ideal conditions! Still we kept watch while we ate, although there was very little activity, not even any Common Buzzards up. Hundreds of Woodpigeons erupted from the wood in the distance a couple of times, but there was no sign of anything chasing them above the trees. The Goshawks were probably very sensibly hiding in the wood.

As we were finishing eating, we could see a small break in the cloud ahead, a tiny patch of clearer sky coming towards us. As it passed over behind us, it was just enough to let a bit of sunlight through. We could feel the warmth on our backs and it just illuminated the trees in front of us. Almost immediately, a Goshawk appeared. It just broke above the tops of the trees, we could see its large size and heavy powerful wingbeats, grey above and pale below. It flew across in front of us, more visible against the sky, before it dropped down again into the wood.

The Common Buzzards were suddenly up too. One flew low across in front of the trees, then we looked across to see four more circling up together. Two drifted off, but the other two started to display, the paler one stooping in dive at the other, turning up sharply at the last moment. It was a lucky break, as the sunshine didn’t last long and after a couple of minutes the mist rolled in again. It went quiet once more.

Heading deeper into the forest, we took a short walk to look for Woodlarks. There was no sign of any at the first clearing today, but as we walked on further down along the ride, we could hear Woodlark calling and then singing quietly. As we came out into another clearing, one flew across the path in front of us and we watched as it disappeared way off into the distance, back where we had just come.

We stopped to look at Yellowhammers in trees at back. We could still hear Woodlarks calling. Then the male flew up from out in the middle of the grass and started song flighting, flying around high above our heads, short-tailed, bat like wings fluttering, singing its slightly melancholy song. The female flew up too, behind it, but dropped down again in the back corner of the clearing.

We wade our way round on the path and found one of the Woodlarks feeding quietly in the grass not far from the path. We had great views of it in the scope – we could see its pale supercilia meeting in a shallow ‘v’ at the back. Another Woodlark dropped in just behind it, as a third flew over singing again. There was lots of activity today despite the grey weather – it must be spring!

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of three in the clearing this afternoon

Lynford Arboretum was our destination for the rest of the afternoon. As we walked in, a couple of Nuthatches were feeding high in the larches. At the feeders by the gate, the fat balls had run out but the peanuts were coated in Blue Tits. A great variety of birds were coming down to feed on the ground too, occasionally being spooked by all the noise from the building work next door and flying up into the trees. A smart male Brambling dropped down under the feeders and started to feed in the leaves.

Brambling

Brambling – feeding on the ground under the feeders

We carried on down the path to the bridge. Someone had put out lots of seeds and fat balls on the pillars, and a constant stream of birds was coming in to feed. We had great close-up views of Marsh Tits from here, plus lots of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Blue and Great Tits.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – great views down by the bridge

Continuing on to the paddocks, a flock of Redwings flew up into the hornbeams. We stopped to scan the trees and spotted two Hawfinches high in the firs at the back. We had a distant look through the scope, then decided to walk round for a closer view. However, we hadn’t gone more than a couple of metres, before we heard a quiet ticking call. It was hard to hear while we were walking, so we stopped to listen properly. As we looked back towards the first hornbeam in the paddocks another Hawfinch had appeared in the branches.

The Hawfinch was perched up calling. It was face on to us and we could see its huge head and bill, with a little black bib and mask. We watched it for some time, getting better views here than the ones at the back. It dropped down a little into the tree and started pecking at lichen, pulling it off branches. Then it dropped down again out of view. There were also several Chaffinches and Greenfinches in the trees and feeding on the ground below.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – perched in one of the trees in the paddocks calling

Having enjoyed such good views of the Hawfinch here, we didn’t bother to walk round to look for the others we had seen earlier. We made our way back round to the lake. A small group of people were looking at the trees in the paddocks from this side. We stopped and managed to find the Hawfinch again in the middle of the hornbeam, so we pointed them in the right direction.

On the island in the lake, the female Mute Swan was starting to attend to their nest, while the male swam around just offshore, keeping guard. A pair of Canada Geese were on the lawn of the hall and nearby, two pairs of Gadwall were with the Moorhens. Gadwall are the most underrated of ducks, not just plain grey. We got a pair of them in the scope and admired the intricate patterning on the drake.

Gadwall

Gadwall – we stopped to look at the intricate patterns on this drake

We started to walk slowly back. There was still lots of activity at the bridge, with birds coming down to the food. We had nice views of Nuthatch here now, with one coming down several times to grab sunflower seeds from between the fatballs.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in to grab a sunflower seed

When we got back to the car, it was time to call it a day and head for home. There was no sign of any Starlings gathering over Swaffham yet this evening, but as we drove north, we could see a flock of several thousands whirling over the pigfields, gathering ready to head in to town to roost.

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