Category Archives: Brecks

22nd June 2017 – Summer Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. After the recent hot weather, it finally broke today. But although we dodged the thunder storms successfully, it was rather cool and windy afterwards, through the afternoon.

On our way down, we stopped off first at Weeting Heath. We were immediately rewarded with lovely views of a Stone Curlew feeding in the long grass in front of the hide. It was quite active, running backwards and forwards, looking down at the ground for food and occasionally pecking at something. A careful scan revealed a second Stone Curlew, sat down hidden in the vegetation – we could just see the back of its head! A Mistle Thrush was hopping around on the shorter grass in front of the hide too.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – showing well at Weeting today

One of the targets for the day was to see summer warblers, so we made our way over to another site where we hoped we might find some. We were duly rewarded with a nice selection. Garden Warbler was a particularly sought after species and we found at least two pairs, one of the males singing briefly. A subtle species, it was good to get a proper look at them, as they can be rather skulking.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – we got good views of this species today

We also heard and saw several other species here – Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were all singing and perched around in the bushes. Only Lesser Whitethroat evaded us here – they are present, but probably busy with breeding at the moment and consequently silent and hiding.

This is also a good spot for Nightingale. They were rather quiet at first – it is not the best time of the year to look for them – but we eventually heard one singing. We followed the sound and saw it perched up briefly in a hawthorn. It took a while to get everyone onto it, but thankfully came out onto the same branch again for a second. Then it dropped down out of view. As we continued on round, we heard another Nightingale singing further over and one calling nearby, sounding rather like a frog croaking.

There were a few other birds here too. We flushed several Linnets from the grass and bushes as we walked round. A female Greenfinch flew up in front of us and landed on some brambles, carrying some moss in its bill, presumably busy nest building nearby. We heard a couple of Yellowhammers singing and eventually got a look at one perched on some overhead wires.

GreenfinchGreenfinch – this female was probably nest building nearby

We had heard thunder rumbling and dark clouds starting to gather. The lightning when it started was quite dramatic but thankfully some distance away. Finally it started to spit with rain, so we made our way quickly back to the car. We arrived just in time, as the heavens opened.

The rain had stopped by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, but it was still cloudy and rather cooler than it had been earlier. We headed straight out onto the reserve, with Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and Common Whitethroats all singing by the path and showing well. In contrast, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes.

There were a few birds on the pool in front of the New Fen Viewpoint. An adult Great Crested Grebe was being followed round by a well grown juvenile, still boasting a black and white striped face. The family of Coot have almost fully grown young too, but the female Tufted Duck was all alone. A Kingfisher zipped out of the trees behind us and disappeared low across the water, returning the same way a minute or so later with fish in bill. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on the pools at New Fen

As we continued out along the main path, there were lots of dragonflies by the path. Several male Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the bare dirt along the track, flying off ahead of us. The vegetation either side was alive with Ruddy Darters today, presumably recently emerged as they seemed to be mostly young males and females. There were butterflies too, with Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells on the brambles. A Large Skipper landed briefly beside the path.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – there were lots out today

On the walk out, we had heard a Cuckoo singing from the poplars in the distance, but it had stopped when we got to New Fen. As we approached the West Wood it flew straight out of the trees towards us and landed in the poplars right by the path. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it flew deeper into the trees and started singing again. A second Cuckoo was still singing in West Wood as we passed.

CuckooCuckoo – landed in the poplars next to the path briefly

Continuing on to Joist Fen viewpoint, there were several RSPB volunteers hanging around staring out across the reeds. They were doing a Bittern survey today. It wasn’t long before we spotted a Bittern for them. It flew up out of the reeds in front of the viewpoint and headed off over the channel, before turning and dropping down into the reeds along one side. There was a lot of Bittern activity today – this is a good time to see them, as the adults are making regular feeding flights to and from their nests.

There were plenty of other birds to see at Joist Fen. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering back and forth over the reeds, a Common Tern was fishing over one of the pools and a Cormorant flew up from one of the channels and headed over towards the river. A flock of over 20 Black-tailed Godwits circled over the reedbed. We heard Bearded Tits calling a couple of times but couldn’t see them – it was getting rather breezy now. There was no sign of any Hobbys here today, but it was perhaps rather too cool and windy after the rain, which was keeping all the insects down.

Climbing up onto the river bank, we had a quick scan across the fields opposite, but it was all rather quiet here. Several Mute Swans were feeding along the river, as was another Great Crested Grebe. Looking back across Joist Fen, we spotted another two Bitterns flying across together further over, before splitting off and dropping down again in different directions.

Back at Mere Hide it was more sheltered and there were more dragonflies, with several Four-Spotted Chasers chasing around over the water. A Red-eyed Damselfly landed on a cut reed stem just in front of the hide. A Kingfisher flew in and looked like it might land on one of the posts out in the water but instead carried on past and landed in the reeds right next to the hide. It was partly obscured by the reeds, but we got a great look at it.

KingfisherKingfisher – landed in the reeds right in front of Mere Hide

Back at New Fen, we stopped by the viewpoint again briefly, but there were still no Hobbys here either. We did see another Bittern, our fourth of the morning, which flew right across low over the reeds and over the river bank, turning and landing just beyond. We walked round there to see if it was close to the path, but when we arrived there was no sign of it.

We made our way back along the river bank to the Washland. It was looking rather dry now, and there were fewer ducks than earlier in the year. We did manage to see a nice selection of waders, including a single Little Ringed Plover, one Redshank, two Black-tailed Godwits and plenty of Oystercatchers & Lapwings. In the distance beyond, e could see a Red Kite circling.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back to the car. We were just getting the food out when we looked up to see a Bittern flying low overhead. A bit of a surprise, as we were some way from any reeds! It disappeared off towards the visitor centre.

BitternBittern – flew low over the car park as we were getting our lunch out

After lunch, we headed back into the forest to look for some typical species which can be found here. Our first stop has been a regular site for Redstart in the last few weeks, but there was no sight nor sound of it here today. Hopefully, this means it has found a female and they have settled down to breed nearby.

We had a walk into the clearing and as we made our way round the edge, a pipit flew overhead and dropped down into the grass. We made our way over to see if we could see it but before we got there we heard a bird calling softly from the trees nearby and looked up to see another pipit perched in a pine. As we hoped, it was a Tree Pipit and we got a great look at it through the scope.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – up in the pines carrying food for its young

The Tree Pipit was carrying food in its bill, so presumably has young nearby. We left it in peace and retreated. We had intended to go to another site for Tree Pipit after this, but there was now no need. So instead we went round to the other side of the clearing to see if we could find any sign of a Redstart.

It was rather quiet here now, the middle of the afternoon and cool and breezy. A flock of tits moved quickly along the edge of the pines – Long-tailed Tits accompanied by a few Blue and Coal Tits. We flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass, which flew up into the trees nearby. However, the highlight of our walk here was a Woodlark which perched in the top of a small pine briefly in the middle of the clearing.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. We had hoped that there might be more activity here, out of the wind, but it was rather subdued here too. As we walked round, we did find a couple of Nuthatches dropping down to the ground to feed under a small tree and we heard a Treecreeper calling from the wood. There were quite a few Siskins buzzing round the tops of the firs in the Arboretum and a pair came down and landed a little lower where we could see them briefly. A couple of Goldcrests showed themselves too.

We made our way down to the lake. There are always Little Grebes on here and they seemed to have had a good breeding season. As adult was feeding a small juvenile under the overhanging branches just along from the bridge. Further along, 3-4 fully grown juvenile Little Grebes, still sporting stripey faces, were diving among the lily pads.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of the fully grown juveniles on the lake

When we got the end of the lake, we turned and made our way slowly back to the car to finish the day.

9th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Private Tour today, our last day. We were planning to head down to the Brecks for the day. It was a nice day today, mostly cloudy but brighter later, lighter winds than of late, and we managed to dodge a couple of quick showers in the afternoon.

As we got down into the northern part of the Brecks, we started to see more pig fields. We stopped by one of them where we could see there was a large mob of gulls. The pig nuts had just been spread out in amongst one group of pigs and the gulls were squabbling in between them trying to help themselves. Then there was a loud ‘Bang!’ as a bird scarer went off and all the gulls took to the air.

When they landed again, down in a dip in the middle of the field, we scanned through the gulls we could see. We had hoped we might find a Caspian Gull, but they were mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls here today, of various ages, plus a couple of Herring Gulls. We had thought we might come back and have another look here later, but our day ended up taking us off in a different direction.

Stone Curlew was our next target and we quickly found a pair in a field by the road. The vegetation is growing up now and they are getting harder to see, particularly when they sit down. It took a careful scan to find them, but we could just see two heads peeping out. We got them in the scope and could see their staring yellow irises. A nice start to the day.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair hiding in the field

When originally discussing possible targets for these three days, Wood Warbler was one species which came up. Unfortunately the bird which had been singing near Brandon last week had not been reported for several days, but we wondered whether this might be just because of the windy weather. We went for a quick look just in case, but all was quiet in the trees where it had been, so we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop was more successful. We parked by a ride in the forest and walked along the track until we got to a large clearing. We could hear Goldcrests and a Treecreeper calling in the pines as we passed. As we approached the clearing we could hear a Stonechat calling and we looked over and saw a smart male perched on the top of an old stump row. A female was perched nearby with food in her bill. They clearly had young in the nest nearby.

StonechatStonechat – the pair in the clearing appear to have young

We were looking for Tree Pipit here and it didn’t take too long to find one. It was perched in the top of an elder tree just along from the Stonechats. We got a good look at it through the scope, swaying about in the wind, before it flew off and up into the pines trees beyond.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – perched in an elder tree briefly

Continuing on round the clearing, we caught a snatch of song, quite sweet and melodic but more rolling than a Blackcap. It seemed an odd place for a Garden Warbler and the first bird we saw come out of the young pine trees was a Whitethroat which led to a brief bout of head scratching – could we have imagined it? Thankfully, a couple of seconds later the Garden Warbler flicked up into the top of some brambles in the stump row behind, a nice bonus to see here and not one we had expected.

Back to the car and we drove round to another part of the forest. There has been a Redstart singing here recently, but we couldn’t hear it today. Whether it was just busy feeding somewhere out of view or has failed to find a mate and moved on was not clear. A smart male Yellowhammer flew in calling and landed on the fence in front of us.

We had a walk round and flushed a Cuckoo from the grass. It landed on a fencepost briefly, before flying off along the fence line. A second Cuckoo appeared and flew out to a small bush nearby, where we got a great view of it in the scope. Then we heard what we assume was the first Cuckoo singing in the distance, so there were two males here. A little later the second Cuckoo flew over and attempted to chase off the first, before flying back to its favoured bush.

CuckooCuckoo – one of two males here today

Another Tree Pipit flew in and dropped down into the long grass. We walked over to try to get a better look at it, but it had managed to sneak away. As we scanned the spot where it had dropped in, the next thing we knew it took off again from further along and flew off towards the trees.

As we turned to walk back, we could hear a Woodlark calling. Suddenly a male Woodlark flew up from a short distance ahead of us and started to sing, fluttering up over our heads, before drifting away over the clearing. We took a few more steps and heard another Woodlark calling. It sounded to be a long way away, but they are masters at throwing their voice and looking at the grass just ahead of us, we spotted it perched on a tussock, presumably the female.

WoodlarkWoodlark – perched on a tussock close to the path

We stopped immediately and had a good look at it through binoculars, but when we tried to get the scope on it, the Woodlark took off and landed in the grass further back, out of view. We headed back to the car and drove on. Having seen Stone Curlew earlier this morning, we were not to worried to see another, but we stopped briefly at Weeting on the way past anyway. We couldn’t find the Stone Curlews here today, but we did find three regular Eurasian Curlews out in the grass, a reminder they still breed in the Brecks in small numbers.

We stopped for lunch at Lakenheath Fen. While we were eating at one of the picnic tables, a Hobby drifted overhead. We had intended to explore the reserve after lunch, but with most of the possible species we might see here already on our list for the three days, another idea sprang to mind. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope at Welney for the last couple of days, which would be a new bird for one of us. It seemed like it would be a great way to round off the trip.

While Welney is not far away as the crow flies, it was a circuitous journey round from Lakenheath, through the Fens. When we arrived at the Welney WWT visitor centre, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling from the bushes outside, but couldn’t see them. We decided to look for them later, and with other things taking priority headed straight out to look for the phalarope. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed it had still been present just a short time ago, so we set off to walk the almost 1km down to Friends Hide.

When we got to the hide, The Red-necked Phalarope was out of view. There were several pairs of Avocets on here and quite a few chicks. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had a couple of small fluffy juveniles with them too. We had been lucky with the weather today – it was warm and bright as we walked out to the hide – but we had been promised showers in the afternoon and a brief heavy rain shower came through. The adult Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers called to their respective young and sheltered the juveniles under their wings while the rain passed over.

AvocetAvocet – sheltering their chicks under their wings during the rain shower

It quickly brightened up again and the juvenile Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were let out. The Avocets were being very aggressive. Their idea of childcare is to let the young fend for themselves and chase off potential predators. But they have got their definition of what might be a threat to their young awry – they were busy chasing off anything and everything!

A couple of adult Avocets kept having a go at the poor Little Ringed Plovers, chasing after them while they were trying to protect their young. The adult Little Ringed Plovers tried to lead them away with a distraction display, walking away with wings dangled, trying to look injured. It didn’t really work. The Avocets would follow them at first, then when the Little Ringed Plover felt it had got far enough away, it ran back to its chick but the Avocet simply chased back after it.

Avocet and Little Ringed Plover 1Avocet & Little Ringed Plover – the latter giving a distraction display, feigning injury

The Avocets kept chasing the Red-necked Phalarope too, which was probably why it spent so much time hiding in the reeds at the front of the pool. Every time the Red-necked Phalarope swam out, it was promptly chased off. We had a couple of quick views of it. At one point, when chased, it flew across the front of the scrape and landed on a small patch of mud, but the Avocet was still after it and once again it disappeared back into the reeds.

Eventually, the juvenile Avocets moved away from the Red-necked Phalarope’s favoured corner and it managed to swim about for a while feeding out in the open where we could get a good look at it. It was a male, which in phalarope’s means it is the duller plumaged of the sexes, with the females being brighter. The females do all the displaying and leave the males to incubate and rear the young. This male Red-necked Phalarope was still a smart bird, swimming round non-stop, in and out of the reeds, picking at the waters surface for insects of ducking its head under.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – swimming around in front of the hide

We watched the Red-necked Phalarope for a while, swimming once it finally came out into the open for a while. They are rare visitors here and this bird was probably heading up to Scandinavia or Iceland for the breeding season, though where it had spent the winter is anyone’s guess with Scandinavian birds wintering out in the Arabian Sea but recent studies showing that some of the small number of birds breeding in the Shetland Islands migrating to join the North American population in the South Pacific Ocean! When it finally swam back into the reeds again, we decided to start walking back.

On the way back, we stopped for a quick look in the other hides. There did not seem to be too much on view from Lyle Hide, apart from more Avocets – good to see that they appear to be doing so well at Welney. We heard a song that sounded vaguely reminiscent of jangling keys and looked out of the front of the hide to see a Corn Bunting perched on the top of the vegetation. We got a great look at it as it stayed there for a couple of minutes singing, before being spooked by a big flock of Rooks and dropping back down out of view.

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting – singing in front of Lyle Hide

There were several Black-tailed Godwits out to one side of the hide, but the light was bad here as we were looking into the sun. We got better views from the Nelson-Lyle Hide further back. This confirmed our suspicions that they appeared to be a mix of two different races. Nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit breeds across Europe east from the Netherlands. Only about 50-60 pairs breed in the UK on the Ouse and Nene Washes, including a couple of pairs at Welney. First summer islandica or Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits often remain in UK in rather than migrate up to Iceland to breed. There appeared to be a mixture of the two here, including a couple of nice limosa, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them.

Continental Black-tailed GodwitContinental Black-tailed Godwit – of the nominate race, limosa

Back at the Observatory, we could see a pair of Whooper Swans in front of the hide. This is a pair of injured birds which are not capable of flying back up to Iceland to breed, so have instead nested for the last six years at Welney, where they normally spend the winter. We could only see two of the four cygnets they were meant to have this year, but  presumed the others were hiding in the vegetation. Further back across the washes we could see another six or so Whooper Swans, presumably also all injured birds.

Whooper SwanWhooper Swan – with two cygnets

Back at the visitor centre, there were three more Black-tailed Godwits on Lady Fen. A quick look at the feeders as we were leaving finally got us views of the Tree Sparrows, with at least a couple coming and going, including one with only a half-grown tail.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow – coming to the feeders in front of the visitor centre

It was a lovely way to end three exciting action-packed days of East Anglian summer birding, watching the Red-necked Phalarope and all the other birds at Welney. It rounded off the list nicely – we had managed to see a nice set of rarer birds despite it being early June, as well as a great selection of our resident and scarcer breeding species. A job well done, we set off back for home.

 

4th June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours, our last day. It was a nice sunny day today, not too hot, with some hazy cloud, great weather to be out birding. We headed down to the Brecks to try to see some of the local specialities.

Stone Curlew is a scarce breeding species for which the Brecks is well known – it is one of the best places in the country to see them. There are a few remnants of grass heath left here, their traditional habitat, but many now attempt to nest of farmland. On our way south, we swung round by some regular sites to see if we could find one. After recent rain and warm weather, the vegetation has started to get rather tall, making them quite a bit harder to see. However, our luck was in this morning. At our first stop, we found a pair of Stone Curlews in a field.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair in a field this morning

The Stone Curlews were very hard to see at times in the vegetation, particularly when they sat down. However, with patience we were treated to great views through the scope as they walked around in the field. Even when they sat down, we could still see their heads – the striking yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

A couple of Brown Hares were in the field too. At first, they sat opposite each other, facing off. But then we were treated to a quick boxing bout, as one ran towards the other and they both reared up and flapped their front legs at each other. Then they gave up and went back to feeding quietly.

Brown HaresBrown Hares – this pair treated us to a quick bout of boxing

With great views of Stone Curlew in the bag, we moved quickly on. Lakenheath Fen was to be our main destination for the morning. It is a big reserve and we wanted to allow some time to explore as much of it as possible. We did stop at another couple of sites on our way, but couldn’t find any more Stone Curlews at either of these places today – they were obviously hiding in the vegetation here, perhaps not a surprise for a mostly crepuscular species, and with the day warming up nicely.

We did find a few Red-legged Partridges in the fields on our stops. A family of Mistle Thrushes were feeding down in the grass, a Jay flew across and landed on a fence post and a Marsh Tit calling from a line of trees were all nice additions to the day’s list.

After a rather leisurely journey down, it was already quite late in the morning by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, so we set out straight away onto the reserve. There were lots of butterflies feeding on the brambles by the path in the sunshine – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock. A single Common Blue was in the grass too as we walked past.

Small TortoiseshellSmall Tortoiseshell – several butterflies were feeding on the brambles on the walk out

There were a few warblers singing as we walked out. A Common Whitethroat was lurking in the bushes, we could hear Reed Warblers in the reeds, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed. Both Blackcap and Garden Warbler were singing from deep in the poplars but they were impossible to see amongst all the fluttering leaves.

There was quite a crowd gathered at New Fen viewpoint as we arrived. There had been a report of a possible Little Bittern heard here yesterday, but we didn’t hear anything other than the nattering of all the people. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water in front of the viewpoint, along with its stripy-headed chick. A Grey Wagtail was more of a surprise here, flying overhead before dropping down into the reeds. We could hear a male Cuckoo singing from the poplars and someone pointed out a female Cuckoo lurking in the top of one of the bushes out in the reeds.

CuckooCuckoo – a female, with rusty brown around the upper breast and neck

We got a good look at the female Cuckoo through the scope, noting the rusty brown tones to the upper breast, rather than the clean grey hood of the male. We heard lots of Cuckoos here today – both singing males with the classic ‘cook-coo’, the strange bubbling call of the females, and excited males giving various more elaborate song variations in response. It is such a scarce bird in the wider countryside these days, it is always great to come to a reserve like Lakenheath Fen where they are still relatively common and listen to them.

After a short rest at New Fen, we carried on up the main path. A Kingfisher zipped across out of the poplars and over the bank to New Fen, but too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A smart male Marsh Harrier, with silvery grey wings and black tips, circled up out of the reeds and over West Wood. A single Hobby, our first of the day, flew low across New Fen, just visible over the vegetation on the bank.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path, mostly Azure Damselflies and Blue-tailed Damselflies, but along the path on the edge of West Wood we found quite a few Red-eyed Damselflies in the reeds and nettles too. We had hoped to find a Scarce Chaser along here, but it was rather breezy along here now and there were just a few Four-spotted Chasers.

Red-eyed DamselflyRed-eyed Damselfly – several were along the path by West Wood

With one eye on the clock to make sure we got back in time for lunch, we made our way quickly out to Joist Fen viewpoint. We had been told on the walk out that the Bitterns had been showing very well here this morning, flying back and forth, but it seemed rather quiet at first, when we got there. We couldn’t hear any booming – it was the middle of the day by now, which can be a quieter time. There were at least six Hobbys hawking for insects distantly out over the reeds and several Marsh Harriers circling up. All the group finally got to see a Kingfisher here, with a couple zipping in and out out over the reeds carrying food.

Thankfully we didn’t have too long to wait. Suddenly a Bittern flew up out of the reeds. It turned and flew straight towards us, giving us a great look at it as it flew round and out of sight behind the bushes beyond the shelter. That would have been nice enough, but it then came over the bushes and turned back towards us, flying round close past behind us, croaking as it went. Wow!

BitternBittern – great views as it flew round the Joist Fen viewpoint

The Bittern flew about 180 degrees round the viewpoint, before finally bearing away to our left and dropping down into the reeds beyond, giving us all stunning flight views. A minute or so later, what was presumably the same bird started booming over in that direction. We couldn’t have asked for a better show.

With such great views of Bittern already, we decided that wouldn’t be bettered and started making our way back for lunch. As we walked back along the main track, a couple of Hobbys appeared over West Wood. They were joined by more and soon we had five Hobbys hanging in the air or circling. Even better, a couple of them drifted out over the reeds towards us, giving us our best views of the day overhead.

HobbyHobby – great views overhead on the walk back

Our luck was in with the dragonflies on the way back too. A young male Scarce Chaser flew past, a flash of rich orange, and landed on a reed stem nearby. We had seen a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on the walk out, but a smart male stopped nicely for us in the sun now. We also managed to find a Variable Damselfly with all the Azure Damselflies too.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – a male, with distinctive hairy thorax

After lunch back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off into the Forest to try to find some other of our target birds for the day. There has been a Wood Warbler singing near Brandon for about ten days now and it has been showing very well at times. We drove down the track and parked, before walking along the path to where it has been seen. Even before we got there, we could hear it singing.

As we walked in to the trees, it was clear the Wood Warbler was singing from low down and right by the path. We were treated to some great views as it fluttered around only a couple of metres up in some small trees just a short distance ahead of us, even coming right towards us along the path at one point. We even managed to get it in the scope briefly, when it perched still for a while, singing.  Bill open, its whole body quivered with the effort of delivering its song, sounding rather like a spinning coin slowly settling on a hard surface.

Wood WarblerWood Warbler – showed very well, singing right in front of us

Wood Warbler is a very scarce bird here these days, though it is still found in the wetter woods of the north and west of the country. It used to be a regular breeder here albeit in small numbers, but has now all but disappeared, with just the occasional lone bird found singing, possibly a northbound migrant which has stopped off for some reason to try its luck. This has been a better spring for them, with several seen this year, but still it is unlikely any will manage to pair up and breed. Eventually, the Wood Warbler started to move higher into the trees, so after seeing it so well we moved quickly on.

Our luck was in now, as we headed over to another site in the Forest and immediately heard a Redstart singing from a small group of trees as soon as we arrived. We made our way round to the other side, at a discrete distance so as not to disturb it, and the Redstart suddenly appeared in the top of a large hawthorn. Through the scope, we got a great look at it, bright reddish-orange below, black faced and with its striking white forehead shining in the sun. Male Redstarts are really stunning birds to see.

RedstartRedstart – a cracking male singing on the edge of the Forest

The Redstart kept dropping down out of sight, but then coming back up into the top of the hawthorn to sing. The song is easily overlooked, a series of short, melodic but slightly sad sounding bursts interspersed with long pauses. We stood and listened to it for a while, until it worked its way through the bushes and round to the other side of the trees, out of view.

Like the Wood Warbler, Redstarts used to be much commoner birds in this part of the country, but declined through the last century and are now mostly confined to a few sites around the Forest. So it is always a treat to see one here and particular to hear it singing.

Our final destination for the afternoon saw us park up by a forestry track and walk deeper into the forest. It was rather quiet in the trees, with just the odd Goldcrest or Coal Tit heard in the dense coniferous plantations. We made our way round to a clearing and, as we approached, a pair of Stonechats were perched in the top of an old stump row, calling. They were collecting food, so presumably had young nearby. A couple of Whitethroats appeared with them.

We had come looking for Tree Pipit and a short snatch of half song suggested there might be one close by. We walked round to the other side of some trees and there it was, perched in some dead branches. It stayed there for a few seconds, pumping its tail, and we could see it was colour-ringed, before it flew up into a tall birch tree nearby. Almost immediately it dropped back down towards the clearing and was followed by a second Tree Pipit, presumably a pair.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – appeared in some dead branches in front of us

One of the two Tree Pipits dropped down to the ground out of sight, but the second, presumably the male and the same bird we had seen first, landed in the top of a young fir tree, where we could get it in the scope. We had a great look at it, as it stayed there for ages, preening for a while, looking round, turning so we could see it front on as well.

While we were standing here watching the first Tree Pipit, we just caught what sounded like the song of another way off in the distance. Scanning the young trees, we managed to find it, perched in the top of another small fir, right over the other side of the clearing. It is great to think there might be two pairs here this year.

Eventually, the first Tree Pipit dropped down to the ground out of view, so we left them to feed quietly. It was time to call it a day anyway now, so we made our way back to the car. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, and a great way to round off an exciting three days of summer birding in East Anglia.

26th Apr 2017 – Big Spring Birding, Day 1

It was Day 1 of our big 5 day Spring Bird Tour today, but it didn’t really feel like spring! A very cold north wind meant temperatures have dropped right down again. We were forecast wintry showers today, and they came thick and fast early on this morning so there was barely a gap between them. Thankfully it calmed down a bit by the afternoon and we were able to pack in quite a lot of birding. There was even some blue sky on show! Given the wind, we decided to avoid the coast and head for the relative shelter of inland, down in the Brecks.

Heading south from our base in Wells, we stopped off on the way down in an area which is very good for Stone Curlew. These birds are breeding in farmland, rather than their traditional habitat of grass heath. Scanning across an area of fallow ground, we quickly got on to a Stone Curlew. It was huddled down against the wind, half hidden by the growing vegetation, and back onto us at first. Eventually it shifted round a little so that we could see its black-tipped yellow bill and yellow iris – before it closed its eyes again. A Brown Hare was hiding in the grass here too.

Then some dark clouds appeared over us and it started to rain, rapidly turning to hail. We sheltered in the car for several minutes while it blew through, and then came out for another go. We could still see the Stone Curlew tucked down in the grass, so we decided to see if we could get a better view from a different angle. A couple of Skylarks had started singing, hovering up high into the sky. A bright yellow-headed male Yellowhammer was feeding in a bare strip on the edge of a field. Several Lapwings were flying round. We couldn’t see the Stone Curlew at all from here, with too much tall grass now obscuring our view. Another shower was rapidly arriving, so we hurried back to the car and decided to move on.

We continued south, stopping again briefly to scan some pig fields. A Red Kite was circling distantly over the village. A pair of Grey Partridge appeared from among the pig arcs, but the tractor which had been feeding the pigs disturbed them. They scuttled away quickly out of view. The sky behind us turned black again and another squally shower came in fast, so we got back into the car and set off again.

It was still raining when we arrived at our next destination. We stopped on the roadside and listened, from the warmth and comfort of the car. The first bird we could hear singing was a Willow Warbler, a sweet descending scale. Then a Blackcap started up too, very flutey and melodic, and a Common Whitethroat began singing its own scratchy song nearby. These were all completely outclased when a Nightingale started singing. It was beautiful just to listen to, but we had a tantalising glimpse of a shape moving in the tree from which the sound was emanating.

Thankfully the rain dried up and it started to get brighter. We parked the car and went for a walk. Back along road, two Nightingales were singing now. It was a stereo Nightingale show, with one either side. What a performance! But they just wouldn’t show themselves and eventually one went quiet and the other moved further in, away from us.

We walked on over the Common, across to the other side where more Nightingales had been singing recently. On the way, a Green Woodpecker flushed from the grass, but flew off behind the bushes out of sight. When we arrived where the Nightingales should be, it was quiet at first. However, as the sun started to show itself, a Nightingale started singing. Just as we got to the other side of the bushes, and could see it perched on a bare branch, some dog walkers appeared and it flew back into cover. It felt like it wasn’t going to be our day.

There is an area in the middle of the brambles and gorse where this Nightingale sometimes feeds. We found a spot from where we could see the ground and waited. We could hear it croaking in the brambles and the next thing we knew, it flew up into an oak tree right next to us and started singing. Great views! It hopped around between the branches for a while, singing all the time. When it flicked across to a low hawthorn bush, it landed with its back to us with its tail spread, which caught the sun, a stunning orange-red. Quite a show!

6O0A8255Nightingale – eventually put on an amazing show for us

There was a Lesser Whitethroat singing in the brambles nearby. We tried to get a look at it, but it wouldn’t sit still. It kept flying off and then coming back to the same clump, perching only briefly before diving back in. At least we all got good flight views. A Willow Warbler was more obliging. It had been a lovely bright, sunny spell but once again we could see more dark cloud approaching, so we retreated back to the car.

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. The dark clouds followed us and there was a mercifully brief shower when we arrived at the visitor centre. We spent a few minutes watching the feeders – there were several Reed Buntings, males and females, a few Goldfinches and even a couple of Greenfinches here today.

6O0A8293Greenfinch – on the feeders, in the rain

Once the shower had passed overhead, we decided to have a look out over the Washland. It hadn’t been there when we were watching, but when we came outside we flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the feeders. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes on the way.

The first bird we set eyes on at the Washland was the Glossy Ibis, over in the far corner. We got a good look at it through the scope, noting its distinctive long, thick, downcurved bill. This bird has been here for almost three weeks now – a nice one to see here, though it is commoner in its normal home in southern Europe.

IMG_3428Glossy Ibis – out on Hockwold Washes again today

Otherwise, there were fewer ducks on here today – just a handful of Teal and Mallard. There were a few Black-tailed Godwits out on the water. And a Sedge Warbler was singing from the reeds just below us, where we could see it. When yet another shower blew in, we hurried back to the shelter of the visitor centre for lunch.

Over lunch, we sat and watched the feeders again. There were much the same birds as we had seen earlier, but when we had jut about finished the Great Spotted Woodpecker finally came back in, so we could get a good look at it.

6O0A8302Great Spotted Woodpecker – back on the feeders during our lunch break

After lunch the rain finally cleared and it looked to be brightening up nicely. We walked out onto the reserve to see what else we could see. A Cuckoo was singing from the trees behind New Fen Viewpoint, which we could hear as we walked up along the main track. It seemed to be deep in some leafy poplars but, when we continued on along the path towards the river bank, the Cuckoo helpfully came out into the top of a bare tree where we could see it. Through the scope, we admired its barred underparts.

IMG_3461Cuckoo – finally came out into the top of a bare tree

Otherwise on New Fen, there were several Reed Warblers singing. A pair of Tufted Ducks and a couple of Teal were out on the water from viewpoint, along with a family of Coot. A smart male Marsh Harrier was quartering over the reeds at back. By the pond dipping platform, a cracking summer plumage Great Crested Grebe swam out from the reeds not far from us.

6O0A8310Great Crested Grebe – swam out in front of us by the new pond dipping platform

There were no hirundines feeding over the reeds at New Fen in the wind today, but a trickle of Swallows and House Martins passed overhead as we were leaving. Further on, we found more of them, gathered on the south edge of West Wood, in the lee of the trees, hawking for insects. One Common Swift appeared with them briefly, zipping back and forth a couple of times, before disappearing off over the trees.

Suddenly a larger shape appeared low over the reeds and scythed up through the throng. It was a Hobby. The hirundines all scattered, alarm calling, as the Hobby disappeared, empty handed, off into trees. A brief view but an all-action moment. Another smart male Marsh Harrier then kept us company on the walk on to Joist Fen, circling over the reeds beside the path. It looked stunning in the sunlight as it banked, against the dark clouds of another shower which was mercifully passing us by in the distance.

6O0A8319Marsh Harrier – catching the sun against a dark shower cloud in the distance

Out at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, there were more hirundines hawking low over the reeds. A couple of Sand Martins zipped past. There were no more Hobbys out here today, perhaps it was just too windy. Several Marsh Harriers were circling, but there was no sign of a Bittern today. Once we had recovered our breath, we set off again. After a quick look up on the river bank, which was rather windy, we started to walk back.

As we passed New Fen again, another Hobby came over the trees and across the path, before dropping down towards the reeds. As it turned, we could got a good view of its red trousers. The Cuckoo was still singing in trees and we heard a Treecreeper in the poplars too, although it went quiet before we got up to where it had been.

Although we had seen a Stone Curlew earlier in the day, we would like to have had better views. We drove round to another site where they breed, this one a traditional heathland site. As we drove up, a male Linnet was singing on the fence, while a female fed nearby. A male Stonechat flicked between fenceposts ahead of us. It had brightened up nicely now and there was no sign of any more rain here.

6O0A8341Linnet – this male was singing from the fence

As soon as we got out of the car we immediately spotted a Stone Curlew. Perhaps because of the rain earlier, it was very active and put on quite a show. It was walking round, quite quickly at times, then standing still and looking down at the ground. Occasionally it would peck at something, before setting off again. Through the scope we got a great look at it.

IMG_3483Stone Curlew – feeding actively this afternoon, once the rain cleared

While we were watching the Stone Curlew, a quick scan of the surrounding heath produced a single male Wheatear out on a cultivated strip. It was rather distant but still nice to see here. Wheatear used to be a fairly common breeding bird in the Brecks, but the population has all but died out – this could have been a migrant, but it is nice to think it might be staying to breed. A pair of Grey Partridges were feeding out in the grass too.

Having lost some time because of the rain this morning, it was now getting late. Still we wanted to just have a quick look in at Lynford as the weather had improved. It was quiet at first, perhaps still a bit too cold in the trees. A Mistle Thrush flew out of the tops calling, a distant Nuthatch was piping, and we could hear just a single Goldcrest singing. At the feeders by the gate, a lone Coal Tit was feeding on the fat balls. Down by the bridge, there were no seeds on the posts today and consequently just a single Chaffinch here at first.

6O0A8366Chaffinch – looking for any remaining seeds around the bridge

Then we heard a loud ‘chacking’ call and looked up to see a Fieldfare in the trees, with a second calling nearby. Fieldfares are winter visitors, so these should be thinking about heading back to Scandinavia soon. A Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the bridge, climbing up the trunk into the top before flying off towards the Arboretum. A couple of Siskins flew overhead calling.

Down at the lake, we got a good look at a Little Grebe, diving by one of the islands. There were also several Canada Geese and Mallard. A Marsh Tit started calling behind us, and we turned round to find a pair in the trees. The male was collecting food and taking it back to the bushes to feed the female.

6O0A8386Marsh Tit – collecting food in the trees by the lake

As walked back towards the bridge, as well as the Fieldfares, we could now hear Ring Ouzels calling from the edge of the paddocks. Three flew up into the nearest hornbeam, but unfortunately did not hang around for long, and flew off towards the other end of the lake. We turned round again and walked back to see if we could see them. A Treecreeper appeared in the trees in front of us.

As we walked along the path by the lake, we could hear the Ring Ouzels calling in the alders. Then we flushed one from the tops, and it flew out to the far corner of paddocks, and landed it a line of trees. We got it in the scope, but it was a rather dull female, with no white crescent, and we were looking in to the light. When she flew a short distance down along the line of trees, we realised that the other Ring Ouzels were there too. They all landed briefly together, but just as we got them in the scope, they all flew off towards the Arboretum, calling. Ring Ouzels are just migrants passing through here, most often seen on the coast, and always a good bird to find so far inland.

Then, with a big drive back to North Norfolk still, we had to tear ourselves away. Despite the rain at times, it had been a very successful day.

24th Apr 2017 – Spring in the Brecks

A Private Tour today. It was cloudy with an occasional shower in the afternoon, thankfully mostly while we were having lunch, with some brighter spells in the afternoon. With Stone Curlew the main target, we headed down to the Brecks for the day. On the drive down, a couple of Red Kites circled lazily over the fields beside the road, possibly hanging around looking for some overnight roadkill to feed on.

Stone Curlews can be found on some of the remnant heaths down in the Brecks, but many of them attempt to nest on farmland, with varying degrees of success. We stopped off on our drive down to look for a pair which nest regularly in an area of arable fields. Thankfully, this year, they appear to have chosen an area which has been left fallow, rather than attempting to breed in a crop.

The weeds here are starting to grow fast now, but it didn’t take us long to locate one of the pair of Stone Curlews, tucked down out of the wind among the spring flowers. We had a great look at it through the scope – we could see its bright yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill. It was very well camouflaged, particularly when it nestled down tighter into the vegetation and went to sleep. There were several Skylarks singing here, always great to hear, and a Eurasian Curlew called from further over too.

IMG_3347Stone Curlew – hiding among the spring flowers

That was a great way to start so, with our first target in the bag, we made our way further south and deeper into the Brecks. We stopped off at some pig fields for a brief look round, which produced a few birds. As well as the commoner Red-legged Partridges, we found a pair of Grey Partridges which scuttled across the field from the verge. There were several Shelducks, crows, gulls including Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Oystercatchers in the fields with the pigs. With nothing else of note immediately obvious, we didn’t hang around.

Nightingale was our next target and as soon as we got out of the car at our next stop, we could hear a couple of males singing against each other. We walked across to where they were and stood for a while marvelling at the complex songs with beautiful fluid notes and phrases. We thought we might see one perched out in the open here, but they were both tucked deep in cover. At one point, one of the two Nightingales did flick across between two bushes and perched briefly on the edge, but it was too quick for everyone to get onto.

A Willow Warbler singing in the top of a bare bush was more obliging. They also have a beautiful song, but poor bird was rather overshadowed by the Nightingales. A Reed Warbler singing from deep in some bushes, miles from any reeds, was rather odd – presumably a bird on its way somewhere more suitable! A Treecreeper sang from the trees nearby.

We made our way over to the other side of the site, with a few Linnets and Goldfinches in the bushes on the way. When we got there, we could immediately hear another couple of Nightingales singing. We followed the sound and were again tantalised with brief views of the birds darting between bushes. However, our perseverance paid off when we came across one perched in a tree, singing away. We stood and watched it for about 10 minutes, getting a great view through the scope, and just enjoying the sound.

IMG_3369Nightingale – perched out singing for us for ages

The clouds were starting to build rather ominously now, so we drove on to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen, hoping to dodge the showers which we assumed were approaching. We got to the car park just as it started to rain, and made a quick dash for the visitor centre. Thankfully, it was over very quickly, so we headed out to the Washland. A Cuckoo as singing from the bushes as we passed.

There were lots of ducks out on Hockwold Washes, but the first bird we alighted on when we set up the scope was a very smart drake Garganey. We could see the bright white stripe over its eye, curving down the sides of its head, and the ornate black and grey plumes on its back.

IMG_3381Garganey – a smart drake out on the Washes

There has been a Glossy Ibis hanging around here for over two weeks now, a rare visitor from southern Europe. A careful scan and we located it feeding over in one corner. Like a dark heron, with a distinctive long and downcurved bill, we got a good look at it through the scope. Unfortunately, in the overcast conditions we could not see the detail of its glossy bronze plumage. A very nice bird to see here though.

IMG_3392Glossy Ibis – lingering on the Washland for over two weeks now

There were lots of other birds out here too, so having found the two main species we had wanted to look for, we started to scan through the others. We quickly located a Common Tern perched on some vegetation out in the middle of the water, preening. A flock of Black-tailed Godwits flew round and landed down at the front. A Grey Heron flew along the river. There were lots of Swallows and House Martins hawking for insects low over the water.

We looked over our shoulders and saw some more black cloud almost upon us, and at that moment it started to rain again. We made a quick dash back to the visitor centre for an early lunch. From the warm and dry, we watched the comings and goings at the feeders. There was a steady stream of Reed Buntings, Goldfinches and tits coming in to feed today, while we ate our sandwiches inside.

6O0A8128Reed Bunting – several were coming down to the bird table by the visitor centre

After lunch, it seemed to brighten up a bit, so we made our way out to explore the reserve. On the walk out, we could hear various warblers singing from the vegetation – Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers from the reeds, a Common Whitethroat from the brambles, a Blackcap from the trees. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted its song at us as we passed. Another Cuckoo was singing from the poplars – Reed Warblers beware!

We stopped for a while at the New Fen Viewpoint. A Little Grebe was laughing maniacally from the reeds, but the smart summer plumage Great Crested Grebe stole the show. A pair of Coot were feeding their five young, with bright red bald heads, over at the back. A Gadwall and a pair of Tufted Ducks on here were both additions to the day’s list.

There were lots of hirundines hawking for insects over the reeds, including some brown-backed Sand Martins. We could also see several Common Swifts further back, over the edge of West Wood, the first we have seen here this year. But there was no sign of Bittern or Bearded Tit here, so we carried on across the reserve.

A brief look in at Mere Hide was very quiet. However, we did see a pair of Marsh Harriers from just outside the hide. We had enjoyed great views of a grey-winged male by the road as we drove down to Lakenheath earlier, but otherwise the Marsh Harriers seemed a little subdued here today, possibly due to the weather. A Yellow Wagtail flew over calling. As we walked on towards the Joist Fen Viewpoint, another smart Great Crested Grebe was on the pools by the path.

6O0A8141Great Crested Grebe – looking very smart now, in summer plumage

From the Joist Fen Viewpoint itself, we could see at least seven Hobbys hawking out over the reeds. They seemed to have found a spot over one of the pools where they were finding lots of flying insects, and they were a little distant, but fantastic to watch as they swooped back and forth. Recent arrivals back from Africa, they might have been regretting their decision given the weather today!

The pair of Cranes which are often visible from here seem to have disappeared at the moment – reserve staff are exploring various theories as to what might have happened to them. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to go further afield looking for any others, and the weather conditions were not conducive to being too adventurous today. So we made our way back.

We had intended to pop in to explore Weeting Heath on the way past. With a particular interest in Stone Curlews, it seemed appropriate to try to have a look at them in their more natural habitat. However, a quick chat at the visitor centre and we learned that they had not been showing all day today, since very early in the morning. Breeding activity seems to be on hold for now – one of the pairs here seems to have already lost their egg and has not yet got round to another attempt. With that in mind, we decided to do something else instead. Fortunately, we had enjoyed good views of Stone Curlew earlier this morning.

We had wanted to have a quick look in at Lynford Arboretum today, and this gave us an opportunity to visit there now. Unfortunately, it clouded over a bit as we drove back there so, even though it was nice and sheltered in the trees, it was rather gloomy too. There were several Goldcrests singing from the conifers as we walked round, but we couldn’t hear any of the Firecrests – it was not really the weather for it. It started to drizzle a little, on and off, but it was only light so we carried on anyway to see what we could find.

There had been some seed put out on various of the benches in the Arboretum, so we decided to go down to the bridge for a look there. As we walked down the hill, we could see a bird high in the tops of the trees. It was a male Common Crossbill. It stayed there for some time, calling softly, presumably having come in to drink. Through the scope we got a great look at it, noting its distinctive crossed bill tips. A nice bonus!

IMG_3414Common Crossbill – a male, high in the trees above the bridge

There was a small amount of bird seed scattered around the bridge still, so we stopped to see what was coming down to feed. As well as several Blue Tits and Great Tits, we got a great look at a Marsh Tit here. There were several Reed Buntings coming down to the seed, both black and white headed males and streaky brown headed females, giving great close-up views. A pair of Siskin came down to drink briefly at the edge of the lake.

While we were standing on the bridge, we heard a distinctive reeling noise, rather like a cricket. It was a Grasshopper Warbler singing from the edge of the meadow just beyond the lake. This is not where we would normally expect to find a Grasshopper Warbler, so it was a bit of a surprise. We tried walking along the path by the lake to see if we could see it, but there is very little cover for it along here at the moment and it stopped singing and disappeared as we approached.

We had already seen a pair of Little Grebes on the lake, chasing each other round looking from the bridge. As we walked down the path, we could see a few Mallard on the far side, along with a couple of Canada Geese and a Mute Swan. Another small duck swam out from under the trees along the near bank ahead of us – a stunning male Mandarin Duck. It stopped just long enough for us to get it in the scope and admire its amazing multi-coloured plumage, before it swam off around the back of the island.

6O0A8164Mandarin Duck – a stunning drake down on the lake

As we made our way back to the bridge, a Grey Wagtail was feeding under the overhanging trees on the other side of the lake, before flying off across the water. A Jay disappeared off through the trees, flashing its white rump. Back at the bridge, a Nuthatch appeared in the trees and flew in to a branch above us, where it spent a minute or two hacking away at the bark with its dagger-like bill. A Sparrowhawk flew fast and low through the trees, scattering all the birds and causing a couple of Mistle Thrushes to call loudly in alarm.

6O0A8189Nuthatch – feeding in one of the trees above us, down at the bridge

It had been a very productive little session around the Arboretum, despite the weather – well worth the visit. Unfortunately, it was now time to start making our way back. We had enjoyed a nice introduction to the delights of the Brecks in late spring and seen some great birds today as well.

26th Mar 2017 – Brilliant Brecks

A group day tour down to the Brecks today, our last scheduled Brecks Tour for March. It was another lovely day – bright and sunny, though still with a bit of a chill to the east wind. It still felt like spring though, out of the wind, a great day to be out birding.

The meeting place at the start of the day was at Lynford. As we gathered in the car park, we could hear a Blackcap singing, the first we have heard this year. There seems to have been quite an arrival of them in the last couple of days. We looked across and could see it perched up in the top of a bare deciduous tree nearby.

Over on the other side of the car park, we could hear a Firecrest calling. We walked over and realised it was out on the sunny side of the trees, by the road. When we got round there, it had moved up into the tops of the trees, and was calling constantly. There were lots of other birds up there too, Siskins, Chaffinches and tits. Then a second Firecrest started calling nearby, from a low holly bush right in front of us. As it was much lower down, we had a great view of it in there for a couple of seconds, before it too flew up into the tops of the trees.

Back in the car park, we could still hear the Firecrests calling from high up in the trees, where the sun was catching them. A Jay perched in the very top of a fir tree was also enjoying the morning sunshine.

6O0A1000Jay – enjoying the morning sunshine at Lynford

Our first destination for the day was Santon Downham – we planned to come back to explore Lynford later. We drove over into Suffolk, parked in the Forestry Commission car park, and walked back down the road towards the bridge. There were quite a few Bramblings in the alders down by the river and some of them were singing. The song is not much to write home about – a hoarse wheezing rather like a Greenfinch. They should be on their way back to Scandinavia for the breeding season soon.

6O0A1003Brambling – singing in the alders down by the river

As we walked down along the river bank, we could hear the ‘glipping’ calls of Common Crossbills and looked across to see two flying away over the meadows. A little further along we heard our first Mandarins calling. A pair flew in from the other side of the river and did a circuit through the trees, the male following the female, before the two of them eventually landed high in a poplar. It is always slightly odd to see Mandarins balancing in the trees, but they are naturally tree hole nesters.

IMG_2769Mandarin – the drake, balanced high in a poplar tree

A raptor appeared over the top of the trees and a quick look confirmed it was an adult Goshawk. Silvery grey above and rather bright white below, it flew across low over the top of the poplars and dropped away behind the pines beyond. A nice bonus to start the day.

There are still lots of Lesser Redpolls along the river at the moment. Most of them are feeding down in the sallows and alders at the back of the trees, out of view. Odd ones and twos were chasing each other around higher up in the trees and we managed to get some in the scope for a closer look.

The Nuthatches are very noisy along the river at the moment, busy renovating their homes and defending them from any other unwelcome potential occupants. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called and appeared briefly on a branch above the path ahead of us, before flying back into the trees. A couple of Green Woodpeckers laughed at us from the other side of the river.

What we really wanted to see was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker though. We had been lucky enough to be able to watch the male fly in and start excavating a nest hole yesterday, so it was only natural to have a quick look at the same tree this morning, just in case. And there it was! The male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was busy in exactly the same spot. It was hard to see at first, slightly round towards the back of the tree, in the shade, but we got all the scopes on it and we were all soon watching it hard at work.

IMG_2781-001Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – the male, with red crown, busy excavating again

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was disappearing most of the way into the hole – we could just see its tail showing behind the trunk – and re-emerging with beak-fulls of wood chips, which it would throw out. It was mostly in the shade on that side of the tree, but occasionally when it leaned back and turned, its bright red crown caught in the morning sunshine.

We watched the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker busy working on the hole for about 15 minutes. Then it seemed to pause and started calling. We thought we might hear the female answer from somewhere nearby, although we didn’t hear anything. But the next thing we knew, the female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker appeared in a tree nearby. She didn’t fly to inspect the nest hole today, but instead flew straight towards us and landed in a tree right above our heads. Craning our necks, we could see her feeding in the high branches. She flitted between branches for a couple of minutes, before flying off across the river. When we looked back, the male had now disappeared too.

We walked a little further up along the river, to see what else we could find. A pair of Stock Doves were hopping around in a large dead tree. A Water Rail flew into cover on the far bank of the river, but before anyone could get onto it. There were several butterflies out enjoying the spring sunshine – Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. On our way back again, there was still no sign of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker back at the nest hole, so we decided to move on.

On the walk back, a pair of Mandarins were by the river. The female was out on the bank, preening, while the male swam up and down in the edge of the water. He looked particularly smart, his bright chestnut plumage catching the sun, with his thick mane of ornamental feathers around his neck and two ‘sails’ on his back.

6O0A1061Mandarin – a pair were on the river on the way back

On the way back from the bridge to the car park, we noticed a small bird making aerial sallies out from the side of a tall conifer. It was a Firecrest and it was flycatching, fluttering out after small flies which we could see in the air around the edge of the tree. We stopped to watch it for a couple of minutes. When it landed in the edge of the conifer, we could see its boldly black and white striped face and the brighter bronze  patches on the sides of the neck. A lovely bird!

Our next stop was in the north Brecks. We parked in an area overlooking the Forest and got out to scan over the trees. Despite the sunshine, there was still a bit of a chill from the easterly wind, and raptor activity was a little slow here today. There were a few Common Buzzards circling up above the trees. A couple of Red Kites were displaying in the distance, and stopped to chase off another Common Buzzard which was trying to circle with them. A Sparrowhawk came up out of the trees too – just too small to be a Goshawk, with a more active flapping flight and quicker turns. As it circled we could see its square-cornered tail, pinched in at the base. A pair of Kestrels circled over the field nearby.

There has been a pair of Stone Curlews in the field behind, but we couldn’t see them at first. They had settled down in among the stones and clods of earth, in a slight depression in the field, and were perfectly camouflaged. There was also a bit of heat haze now, coming up off the bare ground. We repositioned ourselves slightly and scanned carefully and just managed to see two heads, which looked to all intents and purposes like two rather rounded stones! Through the scope, we could just make out the staring yellow iris in the middle of one of the ‘stones’!

IMG_2870Stone Curlew – one standing up, one hiding in among the stones

Helpfully, after a few minutes, one of the two Stone Curlews stood up so we could get a much better look at it. We could see the distinctive black and white striped panel on the wings.

A Woodlark called and we looked across to see it fluttering over the winter wheat field in front. It flew around for a minute or so and then dropped down to the ground. We saw where it landed, but it quickly disappeared into the crop before we could get the scopes onto it. A short while later, we could hear either it or another Woodlark singing its rather sad and melancholy song from somewhere across the field.

With the limited raptor activity here, we decided to move on and have a look for the Great Grey Shrike first, and come back here for lunch later. We parked by another ride and set off into the Forest. A smart male Yellowhammer was calling from the trees on the edge of the clearing. There was no sound of any Woodlarks today, but there were several dogs running around loose all over the middle of the clearing, not an ideal situation with sensitive ground nesting birds here!

As soon as we rounded the corner by the young pine plantation, we could see the Great Grey Shrike, its bright white and silvery grey plumage really standing out in the sun against the background of dark green pines. We had a quick look from the corner, and then made our way round to the other side of the plantation where we could get a better look with the sun behind us.

IMG_2928Great Grey Shrike – showing well in its usual spot again today

We watched the Great Grey Shrike for a while. It perched in the very top of a young pine tree for a while, before dropping down to the ground. When it came back up, it climbed through the branches of a young ash tree. It stayed there for some time, scanning the ground below. While we were watching it, a Woodlark flew up from the clearing behind and landed in the top of a tall, lone dead pine. Through the scope we could see the prominent pale supercilium and the distinctive black and white panel on the primary coverts.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back to the spot where we had been earlier and scanned over the Forest as we ate. There seemed to be a bit more hazy cloud at first, and it felt even slightly cooler than it had earlier. The raptors were still fairly subdued. However, after a while some blue sky appeared over the trees and we could feel the sun a little stronger on our backs. It was just enough – an adult male Goshawk circled up out of the trees below a Common Buzzard. It didn’t stop long though, and quickly drifted off and dropped away over the pines.

The plan was to spend the rest of the afternoon back at Lynford Arboretum. The Hawfinches have been showing very well over the last few days from the gate, so we got ourselves into position. We could see one Hawfinch come down through the trees and it quickly dropped to the ground to feed, but it was right at the back and hard to see behind some taller evergreen vegetation. There were also a pair of Bullfinches feeding in the leaf litter at the back.

A couple of Bramblings were more obliging, feeding in the leaf litter much closer to the gate. One or two Siskins dropped down to the stone bath to drink. A Nuthatch flew down to the ground too and several tits were flitting around the feeders.

IMG_2946Brambling – coming down to the feed on the ground in front of the gate

Then we spotted someone walking through the trees at the back, and the Hawfinch and Bullfinches flew off as they approached. They walked through to the chicken run with what looked like some food for the pet rabbit which is also in there. We thought the Hawfinches might return, but the next thing we knew a large crowd of people came through the back of the trees, with a couple of dogs in tow too. They went round to the chicken pen and stayed there for what seemed like ages. It was clear the birds would not be coming back down in a hurry!

We walked on down the path to the pines and did a quick circuit round the trees. We could hear Crossbill calling from the tops, but couldn’t see it. From round by the battle area, we heard a Hawfinch calling from the trees. We stopped to look for it and realised that there were loads of finches up in the pines – Bramblings, Chaffinches, Lesser Redpolls, Siskins and Goldfinches – all taking advantage of the opening of the cones and the resulting abundance of free seed. The birds were hard to see in the pines though, and we couldn’t see any Hawfinch.

As we walked back to the main path, we could hear another Hawfinch calling from the trees overhead and then we spotted one out in the open in the top of the deciduous trees by the chicken pen. Unfortunately, just as we got it in the scope, it flew off towards the feeders. We walked back to see if we could find it down on the ground from the gate, but it was still all quiet here.

The Hawfinches often like to perch in the tops of the trees around the Arboretum and enjoy the late afternoon sun, so we decided we would walk down towards the bridge and try our luck there. As we got to the top of the hill, we spotted three Hawfinches in the tops of the bare branches. This time most of the group did manage to get a look at them in the scope, but they didn’t hang around and flew back towards the chicken pen. We turned to walk back and one was perched in the top of a tree on the edge of the Arboretum calling, but that too quickly flew.

The Hawfinches were certainly giving us the runaround today, but as we walked back to see if we could find one down on the ground from the gate, we finally all got a good look at one in the tops of the trees above the feeders. Finally! After a few minutes, it dropped down towards the ground, but there was still no sign of it from the gate.

IMG_2961Hawfinch – finally one perched up nicely in the trees for us

The Hawfinches were a bit like buses today. Having finally broken our duck and had a good look at one, as we headed back down the hill once more to look for Crossbills, there were two more Hawfinches in the tops of the trees by the path. Just as we had suggested, they seemed to be enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. Again, we got a really good look at these two through the scopes. They really are stunning birds, with their massive nutcracker bills.

IMG_2971Hawfinch – enjoying the late afternoon sun in the treetops

Down at the bridge, there was quite a bit of food out for the birds today. There was a steady stream of tits coming in to take advantage of it, including a smart Marsh Tit. A couple of Nuthatches kept darting in too, to grab a seed or two. The resident male Reed Bunting was here again too.

6O0A1093Nuthatch – coming down to the bridge to grab a seed

After a short wait, we heard a Common Crossbill calling. We managed to find it in the top of a poplar but it was deep in the trees and was quickly flushed by a couple of Carrion Crows before everyone could get onto it and dropped down towards the ground, presumably to drink. We walked back towards the start of the Woodland Walk and could see a couple of Crossbills flying around in the trees, although they were very hard to see in the dense tangles of branches.

Thankfully, as we set off in to the wood in an attempt to try to get everyone to see them, the pair of Crossbills flew out and across the path, landing in a spruce tree at the start of the hill. The bright red male helpfully perched right on the outside for a few seconds, long enough for us to get it in the scope. We walked up to the spruce and could see the Crossbills deep in the centre of the tree, and hear them calling, before they flew off.

We walked back over the bridge and along the path, stopping to look at the Long-tailed Tits’ nest hidden in the brambles. It looked to be empty, but as we stood admiring it, we could hear two Long-tailed Tits calling as they approached through the undergrowth. One of them was carrying a large feather. They were clearly too nervous to go in with us standing there, so we backed off.

Another Crossbill flew overhead at that point and we turned to look at it as it landed in the tops of the poplars. It was a rather rusty orange male, possibly an immature, or just lacking in red pigment from its diet. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it, before it dropped down into the trees out of view.

It was already time to head back to the car park now. As we got back to the cars, the Firecrest was singing from the trees nearby, just as it had been when we met first thing this morning. We had enjoyed a long and exciting day in the Brecks in between, and seen some great birds!

25th Mar 2017 – Brighter Brecks

A Private Tour to the Brecks again today. It was bright & sunny once more, but with much lighter winds it felt much warmer. Just like spring in fact. The birds seemed to be enjoying it too.

Our first stop was at Santon Downham. A Greenfinch was wheezing away in the car park and, on the walk down to the river, we saw several Bramblings, including a smart male with a rather black head. Several Siskins and Redpolls could be heard overhead. A lone male Common Crossbill called as it flew over and a few seconds later came back the other way, dropping in and perching very briefly in the top of a tree, singing.

A couple of Green Woodpeckers laughed at us from the other side of the river. Several Nuthatches piped noisily from the poplars. We found a couple of Nuthatch nest holes along the river bank. The first was defended vigorously by the male Nuthatch – when a Blue Tit landed in the same tree, it was quickly chased away. Further along, we found another Nuthatch busy excavating in its nest hole.

6O0A0799Nuthatch – defending its nest hole from the local Blue Tits

We really wanted to see the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers today, and we were encouraged by the news that they had been seen much earlier this morning. After several days where they have been more elusive, this sounded promising. While we waited, we managed to get a Lesser Redpoll in the scope, a male with pink wash over its breast. We could hear loads more Redpolls chattering in the sallows. A pair of Mandarin flew in from the trees calling and headed upstream along the river. A pair of Grey Wagtails flew in to one of the trees which had fallen across the river.

Walking up a bit further, we stopped to listen again. Then we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling, distantly at first. It called a second time, seemingly a bit closer. Then one appeared in a dead tree a short way back along the path. We quickly got it in the scope and could see that it was the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, with a bright red crown when it caught the sunlight. It set off on a quick circuit around the block of poplars, calling occasionally, never staying at the same tree for long. It was a job to follow it.

IMG_2619Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – the male, with bright red crown

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker made its way further back into the trees and disappeared from view. We thought that might be it, but then it called again, closer  to us once more. It worked its way quickly back to the dead tree where we had first seen it and the next thing we knew it was excavating a nest hole! The entrance was round towards the back of the tree, out of view, but we could see the male lean in, and when it came back out a shower of wood shavings fell to the ground. It carried on excavating for at least 15 minutes, in view all the time.

Even better, when the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker finally paused in its excavations and started calling again, a second bird answered it from deep in the trees away to the left. The two called to each other again, and we could hear the second woodpecker was coming closer. Then it appeared in a tree nearby, the female, with a black crown. After a few seconds she flew to the tree where the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had been excavating, hopped up the trunk nearby, and then flew over and ousted the male from where he had been working. He flew off and she started to inspect the hole. It didn’t look like she was too impressed because, after a minute or so, she flew off to, disappearing back into the trees behind.

We had been watching the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers for over 45 minutes, a real treat with such an elusive and fast declining species. And to see both male and female, at one point together on the tree. Wow – great stuff! We made our way back to the car park, stopping on the way to admire various butterflies out in the spring sunshine – Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma and Brimstone. We also had a quick look in on the Honey Bee nest in a tree by the path.

It seemed like a good time to go looking for Goshawks next. We made our way to a convenient spot overlooking the Forest and set ourselves up to scan. Despite the warmer conditions today, there was still a cool NE breeze, though it was not as blustery as yesterday. Raptor activity still seemed a little slow this morning. A couple of Sparrowhawks circled up. There was no shortage of Common Buzzards in view, but they were not gaining any great height above the trees. Two of the Buzzards drifted over towards where we were standing and one of them was promptly dive bombed by a Kestrel. Eventually we located our first Goshawk of the morning, but it was very distant.

6O0A0810Common Buzzard and Kestrel – the latter mobbing the former

A scan of the stoney field behind eventually produced a Stone Curlew. It was hard to see at first, sitting down in the field in a dip. However, it finally stood up and gave itself away. We could see its staring yellow iris and dark-tipped yellow bill. Then it sat down and merged back in with the stone and clods of earth, perfectly camouflaged.

With Goshawk activity seemingly still subdued, we decided to go off to look for the Great Grey Shrike next and come back and have another look here later. So we drove round and parked up next to the ride. The clearings here have been very good for Woodlark recently, but there was no sound of any as we walked down the track. The females are probably on eggs now. It was also warm today and the middle of the day by now, which is when they are least active. We could hear the snap, crackle and pop of the pine cones opening in the spring sunshine as we walked down beside a mature plantation.

Thankfully, the Great Grey Shrike was much more obliging. As soon as we walked round the corner, we saw it, its white and silvery grey plumage really standing out against the deep green of a young pine plantation. It was perched right on the top of a young tree. There was quite a bit of heat haze now, so we walked round to where we could get a close look without disturbing it. Through the scope, we could see the pointed tip to its bill.

IMG_2646Great Grey Shrike – showing well around the same plantation again today

There were more raptors coming up now, over the trees beyond. Three Red Kites circled up with four Common Buzzards. We figured there had to be a Goshawk here too and, sure enough, a large juvenile female Goshawk then circled up out of the trees. It gained height rapidly, climbing with the Buzzards for a bit, before it drifted away from them. A second Goshawk appeared nearby, an adult, probably a male, and engaged in a quick burst of display, possibly trying to get the juvenile Goshawk out of its territory. Then we lots track of both of them high in the sky.

As we walked back towards the car, we made a quick circuit of the clearings looking for Woodlark. We were almost back to the car when we found two, which flew up from the ground and proceeded to chase each other all over the place. One of the two Woodlarks then started to sing, fluttering over the clearing, sounding distinctly mournful, before suddenly stooping straight down to the ground where it disappeared completely among the tussocks and clods of earth. A pair of Mistle Thrushes dropped down to feed out in the clearing too, though given their size they were a bit easier to see on the ground.

It was lunchtime now, but we decided to head back to the vantage point overlooking the Forest and eat our lunch scanning for Goshawks. As soon as we got out of the car, we spotted one. It was another juvenile, flying in and out through the tops of the trees. It gave a quick burst of display, with deep and exaggerated wingbeats, then disappeared behind the trees. After a few seconds, it reappeared further over, circled up rapidly and drifted away from us over the Forest.

6O0A0825Goshawk – this juvenile circled up over lunchtime

After we had eaten lunch, we packed up and headed over to Lynford Arboretum for the rest of the afternoon. As we walked up along the path, we could see quite a crowd gathered by the gate. Thankfully, that was because the Hawfinches had been showing well and it wasn’t long before we were watching our first Hawfinch of the day feeding down in the leaf litter.

IMG_2664Hawfinch – feeding down in the leaf little from the gate

Over the next half an hour or so, there was a steady coming and going of Hawfinches. There were several birds, though it was hard to know exactly how many in total, but we did have three in view at once at one point, a female and two brighter males. It was great to see them so well – they are big finches, particularly compared to the Chaffinches and Bramblings nearby, with an enormous and powerful steely grey bill.

IMG_2728

IMG_2701-001Hawfinches – there were at least three coming down to feed today

There were lots of other birds coming down to feed and drink from the gate this afternoon. As well as the Bramblings, a mixture of duller females and brighter orange breasted males, we saw Siskins, Nuthatches and a selection of tits. A Redwing was lurking in the leaf litter at the back for a bit, later replaced by a Song Thrush. A Great Spotted Woodpecker landed on the ground and started feeding too, at one point.

6O0A0916Great Spotted Woodpecker – feeding on the ground from the gate

Eventually we decided to tear ourselves away from all the action at the gate and walk down towards the bridge. The pine trees at the top of the hill were rather quiet today, as we passed. A Goldcrest sang from the firs on the way down.

Down at the bridge, there was quite a bit of food spread out for the birds and quite a bit of activity as a consequence. A couple of Nuthatches came in and out several times, as did the local Marsh Tits and a pair of Reed Buntings. A Treecreeper was busy climbing up the various alder trunks. A sharp-eyed member of the group spotted a Water Rail down in the sedges below the bridge.

We were hoping to see Common Crossbills here and we didn’t have to wait too long to be rewarded. At first a juvenile flew in and landed in the top of the poplars above us. Then a red male Crossbill and a grey green female flew in too. They flew around in the alders by the bridge for a bit, perching up from time to time where we could see them. We had a good look in the scope, getting a close up view of their distinctive crossed mandibles.

IMG_2746Common Crossbill – a bright red male

When the Crossbills disappeared back into the trees, we decided to move on. We walked round to take a look at the Long-tailed Tits’ nest – we could just see one of the adult birds sitting curled up tight inside. Then we took a walk round the lake. It was nice and quiet at first, but then a large and very noisy extended family group out for an afternoon stroll came the other way. There had been a nice selection of birds on the lake – Gadwall, Mallard and their domesticated brethren of various forms, Tufted Ducks, Canada Geese and a couple of Little Grebes. But when one of the youths in the group kicked a rugby ball out into the middle of the water, most of the ducks flew off.

We carried on round to the far end of the lake, but it was fairly lifeless here after all the disturbance. On our way back, we could see two youths climbing through the bushes on the far side of the lake in an attempt to get their ball back. A pair of Mandarin flew round calling, presumably having just been flushed. They landed again back near the bridge and we just got a look at them before they swam into the reeds. As we walked back over the bridge, a smart male Siskin flew down right in front of us, perched on a low branch twittering, and then nearly landed at our feet before thinking better of it.

6O0A0974Siskin – this male almost landed at our feet

There was still time for once last bonus. As we got back to the car park, we could hear a Firecrest calling. We couldn’t work out where the sound was coming from at first, but then it flew up out of a low fir tree right in front of us. We had a great look at its black and white striped face, before it flicked up higher in a bare beech tree. A lovely way to end a very successful day in the Brecks.