5th Feb 2022 – Winter, Broads & Brecks, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Winter Tour today. The weather brightened up nicely through the morning, and although it clouded over again it remained dry all day, though with an increasingly blustery wind. We spent the day down in the Brecks.

As we drove down into the Brecks, a Red Kite hanging in the air beside the road was possibly a good harbinger of raptors to come. There had been quite a frost here overnight, and it was still chilly when we arrived, with high cloud obscuring the sun.

We went for a walk to see if we could find any Woodlarks first, but when we pulled up by a forest clearing it was all rather cold and quiet. We scanned some horse paddocks across the road, but those were empty this morning too. A small flock of Goldfinches were twittering in a nearby tree and a Nuthatch appeared amongst them briefly.

As we walked down the forest ride, we could hear Common Buzzards calling, and two circled over low ahead of us. Three Yellowhammers flew past and dropped down at the back. But there were no Woodlarks singing this morning – possibly not a surprise as the promised sunshine was still struggling to break through.

We cut across through the trees to some nearby fields, where several Mistle Thrushes were feeding out in the short winter wheat. A distant flock of Fieldfare and Redwing flew up briefly, over a rise towards the back of the field, but immediately dropped back down out of view. There were several Skylarks in the fields too, with one at least singing high overhead now.

As we walked back to where we had parked, two more Yellowhammers came up from the side of the path ahead of us. We figured we would have to try elsewhere for Woodlark later in the morning, once it warmed up.

As everyone was getting into the minibus, never giving up until the last, we had one last scan of the paddocks opposite. There was a Woodlark feeding down on the short grass! We got it in the scope, but we had to keep moving position as there was only a narrow viewing angle and it kept walking out of view, before eventually it disappeared out of sight round behind some trees. Still, a good start at last!

There was a Mistle Thrush in the paddocks too now, and several finches coming down nearby. As well as the Goldfinches we had seen earlier, there were now several Chaffinches and a single Brambling with them.

It was finally brightening up now, so we headed round to a high point overlooking the forest. There were already a few people there, and we hadn’t even had a chance to get out of the minibus before someone told us that there were Goshawks up. We leapt out to see two juvenile Goshawks circling together over the field in front.

Goshawk – two juveniles circling together

We got the young Goshawks in the scopes and had a great look at them as they swept down at each other, even talon grappling at one point. They drifted across in front of us, staying up above the tree line for some time, giving us good prolonged views. Perfect timing!

Goshawk – one of the juveniles

The juveniles eventually disappeared and then an adult Goshawk came up, more distantly, and started slow flapping display, before dropping down again behind the trees. One of the juveniles then came up again, on its own now. It was all Goshawk action for about half an hour.

There were other birds here too. A Woodlark was singing high over the wood in front, just visible, short-tailed, high up against some contrails. A large flock of thrushes flew out of the trees and landed in the field in front – mostly Fieldfares, but with one or two Redwings in with them. A succession of groups of finches dropped in too, several bright orange Bramblings in with the Chaffinches, and one or two Yellowhammers. Five Red Deer stags walked out, then ran off across the field.

Red Deer – five stags crossing

It clouded over a little again now. There were still several Common Buzzards up, swooping and diving at each other, enjoying the brisk wind. A Sparrowhawk circled over with them. We were enjoying the wind slightly less than thee raptors, as there was a distinct chill to it. Given how spoiled we had been with views of Goshawk already, we decided to move on.

We tried another site to see if we could find some Woodlarks singing, but we had no joy here. A Nuthatch was piping from the trees as we got out of the minibus. A couple of Coal Tits were singing against each other from the pines either side of the path. A succession of Siskins flew back and forth overhead, calling.

Driving on down to Brandon, the car park was busy today, lots of people out enjoying the dry weekend weather in the forest. As we got out of the minibus, a Marsh Tit flew across the road and landed in a nearby bush briefly. We walked down to the lake, where several people were feeding the ducks. in amongst the throng of Mallard were several Mandarin and, as we stood and watched, more came out of the reeds to join the melee. We counted at least 12 Mandarin today, but there could still have been more. Very smart ducks, naturalised here now, even if native to China.

Mandarin – a smart drake

We stopped for lunch in the picnic area now. Two more Marsh Tits were flitting around in the trees above us, calling and even singing at one point. After lunch, we packed up and drove back over to Lynford.

We walked into the arboretum, up to the gate and stopped to watch all the birds coming down to the seed. There were several Bramblings and we had a great view of them, even if they kept spooking and flying back into the trees, some bright orange males with faces starting to go black.

Brambling – a male

A few Yellowhammers kept coming down too, including a couple of smart canary yellow males – looking rather exotic here on a winter’s day. Lots of tits kept darting in and out, giving us nice close views now of both Marsh Tit and Coal Tit. All the birds seemed even more nervous than normal, probably due to the wind.

As we walk on down the hill, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in and landed right in the top of a pine by the path. Down at the bridge, for some reason someone has chopped down a lot of the trees, and most of the feeders have been removed. There was no food out on the bridge pillars either today, so we carried straight on to see if we could find any Hawfinches.

We didn’t get much further before we could already hear Hawfinches calling in the paddocks so we hurried on and set the scopes up overlooking the trees. A male Hawfinch was right in the top of one of the hornbeams but flew across just as we got the scope on it, taking another with it, dropping down through the branches of the ash trees nearby. Thankfully, there were still several perched in full view lower down in the original tree. We had nice views of several females, and a couple of males with them at one point.

Hawfinch – a female

Five Hawfinches flew out of the ash trees and disappeared off south, but there were still two left behind. When we looked back at the hornbeam, we could still see four in there – so at least 11 Hawfinches here today.

A couple of Siskins dropped into the ashes briefly, and a Greenfinch appeared in the tops. But the highlight was a Crossbill which flew over calling – they have been very scarce here this winter, so a real bonus. There were lots of Redwings in the trees in the paddocks too, which then dropped down to feed on the grass.

Redwing – in the paddocks

Having enjoyed great views of the Hawfinches, even admiring their ornately shaped wing feathers, we decided to move on. Back to the bridge, we turned down along the path beside the lake. A Moorhen called from the reeds and there were several Gadwall on the water. We admired the intricate patterns of a couple of drakes in close up through the scope.

We were hoping to get better views of Siskins here, but although one or two flew over, there was no sign of the big flock which has been feeding here. We continued on down the path, where it was more sheltered, out of the wind. We could hear Siskins ahead of us now, and they started to fly in and land in the alders right in front of us. Suddenly there were Siskins everywhere!

Siskin – feeding in the alders

A Nuthatch was in the trees on the other side of the water too, climbing up and down the moss-covered branches. Two Goldcrests flitted and flycatched in a bare tree overhanging the path next to us. As we made our way back round the lake, a Little Grebe laughed maniacly from the reeds.

Someone had put some food on the bridge pillars now, and a steady stream of tits was coming and going, giving us more nice views of Marsh Tits and Coal Tits. A Nuthatch came in a couple of times too. Then a Carrion Crow landed on the pillar and everything else waited while it fed.

Nuthatch – coming to food on the bridge

We had not seen the resident Tawny Owl this year, but as we were passing we thought we should have a quick look just in case. There it was, back in its favourite tree! We could only just see its breast feathers through the tangle of branches from one side, but we had a much clearer view from the other side, a pair of dark eyes staring down at us. We had a great view through the scope now, despite the branches moving in the wind. It was only looking at photos later that we realised there were actually two Tawny Owls together, one either side!

Tawny Owl – or two!

Back up the hill, we had a quick stop at the gate again. There were still tits coming to feed but no Bramblings now. There was a lot of disturbance from machinery in the yard next door, so we made our way back to the car park. It was time to head for home.

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