Tag Archives: Brambling

10th March 2018 – Back to the Brecks

A group tour today, down in the Brecks. The forecast earlier in the week had been for rain all day, but thankfully prospects had improved since then. It was still a rather grey and cloudy day but we just had a short, light shower over lunch, which was perfectly acceptable under the circumstances!

With the possibility that it might brighten up through the morning, we headed out to search for Woodlarks first, but ready to go looking for Goshawks if the weather improved. As we got out of the car, a Redwing was perched in the top of a tall tree and a Nuthatch was piping from the wood opposite.

As we walked in along the ride, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing and we found the male high in another bare tree in a nearby clearing. A female was less obtrusive in a small oak on the side of the path and the bright yellow male flew across to join her. We had a good look at them through the scope.

Walking round the edge of the clearing, we stopped to watch a Green Woodpecker which flew across and landed up in one of the trees over the far side. Suddenly we heard a Woodlark calling behind us and turned to see it had flown up and perched in the tree out in the middle, where the male Yellowhammer had been earlier.

That seemed to be the trigger for a burst of activity from the Woodlarks, as two started singing over the other side. We looked up to see one of the males high overhead, fluttering rounded bat-like wings and short tail, song-flighting. We could hear a second male doing the same, further away. The ringing, slightly melancholic song of the Woodlark is one of the sounds of early spring in the Forest, great just to stand and listen to.


Woodlark – one of several song-flighting this morning

The first Woodlark then started to sing from the tree too. It took off and flew across towards us, landing in a small oak towards the front of the clearing. We had a good look at it through the scope, noting its small crest and well marked pale supercilium. At that point, three Skylarks flew across in front of us too, noticeably longer-tailed than the Woodlarks.

Continuing on to the next clearing, we could still hear Woodlarks singing all around. One flew up from the edge of the path as we approached but disappeared off over the back. We stood and scanned here for a minute – there were several Yellowhammers here too and a couple of Linnet in the hazels on the edge of the grass. Having enjoyed good views of the Woodlarks, and with the weather still looking rather grey, we decided to have a quick look to see if we could find a Willow Tit. We made our way over to another block of forest and walked in along a different ride.

It was rather quiet as we made out way through between the dense blocks of commercial pine plantation, but we did come across a pair of Treecreepers which chased each other round and round the trunks of the trees, stopping occasionally for us to get a better look at them. A Goldcrest was singing from the pines by the path and showed nicely flitting around above our heads.

There are a couple of feeding tables set up here for the tits, and we stationed ourselves overlooking one of them. A steady stream of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits was coming in and out all the time. We saw Marsh Tits too and a Nuthatch, but no sign of any Willow Tits. It is not clear how often they visit the feeding stations, but they can sometimes be heard singing or calling in the surrounding trees.

Unfortunately there was very little vocal activity from any of the other tits either this morning, until the weather started to brighten. We hadn’t been looking here too long but we were then torn as to wait to listen for Willow Tits or to head round to look for Goshawks. As the latter was the priority for the day, we decided to head back to the car, briefly distracted by a smart male Yellowhammer perched obligingly in the bushes by the road.


Yellowhammer – this smart male was perched in the bushes by the road

Parking at a convenient location nearby overlooking the forest, we were only just disembarking from the car when we spotted a Goshawk circling behind the tops of the trees. After a hasty exit, everyone managed to get onto the bird in question, although it was only just visible behind the firs. It was a young Goshawk, a juvenile, darker grey-brown above and orangey streaked black below, with very ragged wings.

As the first Goshawk started to circle up a little higher, a second bird appeared. This was an adult and by the looks of it a big female, very pale grey above and appearing almost white below. It was heading over towards the juvenile which was now moving off right as the adult Goshawk started to display, flying after it with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. The juvenile had strayed into its territory and the adult was flying up to see it off.

We lost sight of the two Goshawks behind a line of trees, before the adult appeared again further over. It then launched into a series of rollercoaster display dives, stooping straight down before turning sharply and climbing almost vertically, stalling at the top, before repeated it all over again. It did this several times, gradually losing height before it disappeared down into the trees.


Goshawk – circling up briefly before displaying after a juvenile entered it territory

It was very fortunate we had made the decision to come looking for Goshawks when we did. Talking to some other people who were already there, this was the first Goshawk they had seen this morning. It was already clouding over again when we arrived, and the short-lived period of warmer weather had just been enough to stimulate some activity. Rather quickly, it returned to being grey and cooler.

We stayed for a short while to see if the Goshawks might reappear, but there was no further sign while we were there. We did see lots of Common Buzzards circling over the treetops, a couple of Red Kites hanging over the fields behind, and a pair of Kestrels too. A Woodlark was singing in the distance and a little flock of Chaffinches which flew overhead had a couple of Bramblings with them too, although they were hard to pick out in flight.


Brambling – showed well in the tree by the feeders

With lots to pack in today, we decided to head off and try something different. We made our way over to Santon Downham and parked in the Forestry Commission car park there. A Goldcrest was singing in the fir trees nearby as we arrived. As we made our way down towards the river, a flock of Redwings and Fieldfares flew over. We stopped briefly to look at the feeders and a smart male Brambling flew up into the tree above our heads, giving us much better views than the flyover earlier.

Down at the bridge, we had a quick scan up and down the river. A pair of Grey Wagtails flew towards us calling and the male landed on a branch overhanging the water, just below the bridge, and started singing. When the female flew on downstream, he followed after her.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – stopped to sing in a tree by the bridge

As we made our way down along the path on the riverbank, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew across and landed in a tree on the other side briefly. A Marsh Tit was singing and there were some Long-tailed Tits in the sallows alongside the ditch, where a Goldcrest had just been bathing and stopped to preen. We could hear another Woodlark singing in the distance.

The poplars by the river were rather quiet today. A Nuthatch flew up and perched above us on one of the trunks and a Treecreeper climbed up past it. We had brought our lunches along with us, and sat on some of the sections of sawn up trunk helpfully left here to eat them. We were hoping we might get lucky and come across a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here, even though it was not really the best time of day to look for them, but there was no woodpecker activity at all here now.

It started to spit with rain and a brief light shower passed through, thankfully not even enough to get us wet. Once we had finished eating, we started to make our way back. We had a quick look in the poplars the other side of the road too, but a Great Spotted Woodpecker was the only bird calling here. A smart Little Grebe in breeding plumage now showed nicely down on the river, diving repeatedly along the far bank.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – on the river at Santon Downham

Back in the car, we paid a brief visit to the car park at St Helens. After not being reported since 22nd February, the Parrot Crossbills were apparently seen again yesterday, but it was unclear exactly where and there was no obvious sign of them here. We only spent a few minutes here though and decided not to hang around and to make our way round to Lynford Arboretum, which is where we had planned to spend the rest of the afternoon.

As we walked down the path past the Arboretum, we stopped for a quick look under the beech trees from the gate. There were lots of tits on the cage of fat balls and coming down to the seed spread liberally on the ground. A Nuthatch came down to join them too, but there were only a couple of Chaffinches otherwise here today

Down at the bridge, there was a little bit of seen put out on the pillars already, but we added a generous handful of black sunflower seeds too. There were lots more birds coming and going and we enjoyed great close views of Marsh Tits and Nuthatches in particular here, even though you had to be quick as they darted in, grabbed a sunflower seed or two and zipped off back to the trees repeatedly.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tits – great close views at the bridge again today

A pair of Reed Buntings kept coming in to the seed at the bridge too and there were lots of Siskins feeding in the alders on either side of the path and down by the lake.


Siskin – lots were feeding in the alders here

After a while, we had to tear ourselves away from all the activity at the bridge and we made our way down to the paddocks to look for Hawfinches. We walked along to a gap in the hedge and looked over to the hornbeams in the middle where the first bird we spotted was a smart male Hawfinch perched up in the top!

We got the Hawfinch in the scope and had a good look at it. It was picking at the lichen on the branch, turning from side to side, giving us a great view of its huge bill, white tip to the tail and ornate wing feathers. When we heard a Hawfinch calling, we could see it was not the bird we were watching and a scan of the tree revealed a female Hawfinch climbing up through the branches nearby. It came over to join the male and we had the two of them in the scope together, the female noticeably duller grey-brown.


Hawfinch – a male, perched up in one of the hornbeams in the paddocks

Eventually, the male Hawfinch took off and started to fly over towards us, quickly followed by the female. They turned and headed away strongly south-east, over the pines and away out of view. A quick scan of the grass in the paddocks revealed a Mistle Thrush which flew up and perched nicely on a gate for us to look at it.

We walked back towards the bridge and round by the lake, where a pair of Gadwall were a nice addition to the day’s list. The drakes look rather plain grey and black at first glance, but closer inspection reveals intricate patterning, the connoisseur’s duck! A pair of Canada Geese were feeding on the lawn in front of the hall. When we got back to the bridge, a Great Spotted Woodpecker came down to investigate the seed but flew up into the trees behind when it saw us approaching.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – in the trees by the bridge on our way back

Back in the car park, all we could find this afternoon were a couple of singing Goldcrests, so we made our way down the track beyond to check out the pits. There were not as many duck on here as there have been in recent weeks. A couple of drake Goldeneye disappeared round into one of the bays on the western pit, out of view. As we walked round to the eastern pit, we heard a distinctive call and looked up to see a pair of Mandarin flying past, the first we have been here this year.

The sun was finally starting to show itself just as we were finishing, totally contrary to the forecast which had suggested it would cloud over through the afternoon and may rain later. We stopped to watch a couple of Great Crested Grebes diving out on the water, looking very smart now in their breeding plumage. A male Reed Bunting was singing in the alders nearby – not the most exotic of songs, but it made it feel like spring already.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – very smart now in breeding plumage

It was a nice way to end, but unfortunately that meant it was time to head back to the car and finish the day.


19th Feb 2018 – Rain Doesn’t Dampen Enthusiasm!

A Private Tour in the Brecks today – with some specific target species to look for, rather than a general day’s birding. The weather forecast was poor – heavy rain on and off all day – to the extent that there were even questions as to whether we should go at all. However, as we have seen so many times, all is not as bad as it seems, particularly where Met Office forecasts are concerned! It was still damp, with mist or very light drizzle for most of the day, but nowhere near as bad as forecast. We went out anyway and saw lots of good birds regardless. It is amazing what you can find when you get out…

Our first destination was Santon Downham, where we would be spending the first part of the morning looking for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. A Stock Dove was whooping from the trees as we got out of the car, another sign that spring is on its way. The feeders in the garden down by the bridge held a few finches and tits, and a Nuthatch flew off, up into the alders by the river as we passed.

It was drizzling with rain as we walked along the river bank. A pair of Siskins were feeding on the alder cones and catkins that had fallen onto the path and flew off ahead of us as we approached. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flitted through the trees over our heads. A Redwing flew up into the alders on the other side of the river. A Reed Bunting was singing from the reeds and a Marsh Tit was signing from the poplars a little further on.

Siskin 1

Siskin – feeding on the path along the river bank

As we rounded the corner, we heard a woodpecker call from the trees. It called again – yes, it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker! It was high in the back of the poplars and we had to adjust our position to try to see it, but just caught sight of it as it flew. It landed in some birches further back, out of view, calling again. It was on the move all the time, not staying still for even a second. Then it flew up into the bare branches in the top of another poplar behind where we just managed to get the scope onto it as it dropped back out of view. But it was all too quick to get everyone onto it.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called again a couple of times and then, after just a minute or so, we picked it up flying out towards us. It looked like it might go high over our heads, but fortunately it turned and dropped into the very top of one of the poplars. We had a good view of it through binoculars this time, and even got everyone onto it in the scope, at least briefly, before it flew again and dropped down into the alders on the other side of the river.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

At least we had seen it, but it felt like that might be it. We stopped to watch some of the other birds. There were lots of Redwings in the trees today and a flock of about twenty Siskins flew back and forth across the river.

Then we caught sight of some movement and watched as the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew across and landed low down on one of the trunks on the near side of the bank of trees. This time we had a great view of it as it pecked and probed in the bark. It was the female, with a dark rather than red crown, and we could now appreciate just how small it was – only around the size of a sparrow.

We watched the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker for several minutes, gradually working its way up the tree, before it flew off up high into the alders and out of view. A Great Spotted Woodpecker then appeared in the trees nearby and we got that in the scope too. We could see it was much bigger, with an obvious red patch under the tail.

Very pleased with getting such good views of our first target, we headed back along the path. At the garden by the bridge, a couple of Bramblings had appeared at the feeders but flew off as a car passed. We made our way up to the churchyard to look for our next target – Firecrest. But it was still drizzling at this stage and all was quiet. There were not even any tits or Goldcrests in the trees, just a noisy Nuthatch.

The Parrot Crossbills have been very elusive at times in recent weeks and with the weather today too, we didn’t hold out much hope of seeing them. We drove along to the car park north of the level crossing to have a look anyway. They haven’t been drinking in the car park recently, but have been coming down at times to the ditches in the cattle fields, so we had a walk round that way.

This is usually a good area for Woodlark but there was not even any sign of those this morning. We did find a pair of Treecreepers climbing the trees in the edge of the paddock and a couple of Jays which flew off ahead of us.

There was no sign of the Parrot Crossbills at St Helens either, nor could we find any Woodlark here today. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were feeding out in the cultivated strip and we could hear a Grey Wagtail singing and looked across to see it perched on the handrail of the footbridge. A quick look down at the river failed to produce anything of note either.

We decided to have an early lunch back at the level crossing car park then afterwards walked back along the road to the bridge. A Kestrel flew through the trees, our first of the day. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us in the distance. But there was no sign of much else of note here, so we decided to move on and try something different.

When we got to the car park at Lynford Arboretum, we walked across to look in the fir trees. We had only just started to say that this is sometimes a good place for Firecrest, when a tiny green bird flitted into the bare branches of a small deciduous tree in front of us. A Firecrest – right on cue!


Firecrest – singing today, at Lynford Arboretum

The Firecrest flew up into a fir tree nearby and we watched as it flitted around among the branches for several minutes, giving us a great view of its head pattern, the prominent white supercilium and black eye stripe lacking in Goldcrest. It dropped back into some low fir trees and disappeared but a couple of seconds later we heard it singing. We walked over to find it above our heads in a beech tree by the road. Having missed it at Santon Downham earlier, it was all the better to catch up with Firecrest here now.

Walking down through the Arboretum, we stopped at the gate to look at the feeders. The fat balls were coated in Blue Tits feeding feverishly. The ground was coated with birds too, coming down to the seed sprinkled liberally among the leaves. A Marsh Tit dropped in among all the Great Tits. There were several Chaffinches feeding in the beech leaves too and a couple of Bramblings appeared with them, a brighter orange male and a duller female.


Brambling – feeding with the Chaffinches in the leaf litter

Down at the bottom of the hill, there was no seed put out for the birds at the bridge today, so it was rather quiet. A Goldcrest was singing high in a fir tree. We decided to have a look round by the lake first instead. There were lots of Siskins along the path and here too they were feeding mostly on the ground today. We stopped to watch two bathing in a wet marshy area under the trees. Three Nuthatches were chasing each other through the branches.

Siskin 2

Siskin – a male bathing in a puddle under the trees

We had already had a quick scan of the hornbeams out in the paddocks from the start of the path, but now we heard a distinctive metallic ‘ticking’ call coming from the trees. We found a convenient viewing gap and looked across to see at least three Hawfinches chasing each other through one of the hornbeams. There appeared to be two brighter males and a female. As the males flew through the branches, they spread their tails, showing off the white tip. This is the start of their spring display, a precursor to pairing up, something great to watch.

As the chasing subsided, one of the Hawfinches then stopped in the top of the tree and started to preen. Here we could get a really good look at it, through the scope. We could see the massive bill and head, powerful enough to crack a cherry stone!


Hawfinch – taking a break to preen after a bout of chasing display

After watching the Hawfinches for several minutes, they moved further back into one of the other trees. We continued on round the lake. There were a few wildfowl on here as usual – a couple of Mute Swans, a single Greylag with several Canada Geese, and a couple of pairs of Gadwall. We were in agreement today, that Gadwall really are an underrated duck compared to some of their gaudier cousins!


Gadwall – always deserving of a promotional photo!

Firecrest and Hawfinch were our main target species at Lynford this afternoon, so having caught up with them so quickly, we had a bit more time to play with. We decided to head off into the forest again and have another go to see if we could find any Woodlark.

On our way, we stopped to admire a large flock of thrushes in a field, a mixture of Fieldfares and Redwings. The Redwings were easily spooked and kept flying up into the trees nearby, while the Fieldfares largely continued to feed unconcerned. A single larger Mistle Thrush was lurking at the back too.


Fieldfare – we came along a large mixed flock with Redwings in a field

We parked at the start of a forest ride, by a large clearing, and as soon as we got out of the car we could hear a Woodlark calling, a distinctive ringing, double ‘tu-lee’. We looked over to see it perched high in a tall bare tree, left behind when the plantation was clearfelled. Through the scope, we could see its short crest and bold pale supercilium. It even gave a short burst of its mournful song. The weather had improved a little through the afternoon, but it was not what we were expecting on such a dull and damp day!

As we walked round, there were more birds in the other trees in the clearing. There were several Yellowhammers including some smart yellow-headed males. A little flock of 6-7 Lesser Redpoll flew up to join them. A Green Woodpecker flew across and landed in the trees on the far side of the clearing.

A little further on, we could hear another Woodlark singing and looked across to see it song-flighting, fluttering over the clearing with rounded bat-like wings and short tail. It landed in a tree at the back with more Yellowhammers, where we got a distant look at it through the scope, before one of the Yellowhammers chased the Woodlark off. We watched the two of them fly round and the Woodlark dropped down to the ground on the edge of the path, a little further on.


Woodlark – great views feeding on the ground by the path

We made our way over quietly and had great views of the Woodlark through the scopes, feeding on the ground. We could see the way the pale supercilia met at the back of the neck in a shallow ‘v’.

It was great to catch up with Woodlark finally, having missed them earlier in the day.  That was a great way to wrap things up and we decided to head for home. With all the concerns earlier about the weather forecast, it was remarkable how well we had done today. Well worth coming out after all!

13th Oct 2017 – Autumn Extravaganza Day 2

Day 2 of a four day Autumn Tour today. It was a more mixed day weather-wise, mostly dry apart from a brief squally shower this morning, but with a rather blustery SW wind all day, gusting up to 40mph at times. Still, it didn’t hold us back and we had another great day out.

After meeting in Wells, we headed west along the coast to Titchwell for the day. There were lots of geese in the stubble fields by the road – lots of Greylags with a good number of Pink-footed Geese and a few Egyptian Geese too.

At Titchwell, the main car park was slowly starting to fill up, so we went for a quick look round the overflow car park before it got too busy. There were several Blackbirds in the apple trees – possibly some of them were freshly arrived from the continent overnight – and a couple of Redwings were calling from the hedge as we walked past. We flushed several finches from the brambles, a few Chaffinches and a noisy flock of Greenfinches. A Brambling flew over calling, as did a single Grey Wagtail. Otherwise, there were not that many birds in here this morning, so we decided to head out onto the reserve. A Redwing flew across in front of us and perched briefly in the top of the trees, before diving into cover.

A Grey Phalarope (also confusingly called a Red Phalarope, for our North American tour participants!) had appeared at Titchwell yesterday, so after enjoying great views of the Red-necked Phalarope yesterday, we thought we would go to look for the Grey today. Before we got out of the car park, we received a message to say that it had just flown in closer and was now showing very well in front of Parrinder Hide, so we headed straight round there.

When we got out onto the main path, we could see some dark clouds heading our way, so we didn’t linger to scan for birds on the way out. A Bearded Tit was pinging from the reeds by the Thornham grazing marsh dry pool and zipped across the tops before diving back into cover. A single Eurasian Curlew was very well camouflaged standing in the vegetation out on the saltmarsh, whereas the Little Egret stood out like a sore thumb!

There were quite a few people in Parrinder Hide already, but we managed to find space for all of us. Just in time, as a squally shower passed over. Within a minute or so of us arriving, the Grey Phalarope appeared from behind the reeds. Unusually for a phalarope, it seemed to have realised it was a wader and was feeding along the edge of the water, walking around on the mud. Normally they prefer to swim! It picked its way steadily towards the hide and was soon only a few metres away from us – great views.

Grey Phalarope 1Grey Phalarope – mostly feeding like a wader rather than swimming today

Up close like this, we could see the Grey Phalarope was a young bird, moulting into 1st winter plumage. It had already moulted its mantle and scapulars extensively, with new pale grey feathers, but still retained several white-fringed black juvenile feathers, particularly on its wings. It was also a little bit chunkier, with a slightly thicker, heavier bill than yesterday’s Red-necked Phalarope, which was still mostly in juvenile plumage.

The Grey Phalarope worked its way up and down on the mud, doing a little circuit, occasionally flying back out of sight behind the reeds, before making its way back out again along the muddy water’s edge. At one point it, when it got to the nearest point of the mud, it flew across and landed down right in front of the hide windows. From time to time, it would swim across the water, but it seemed to prefer to head back each time to the mud.

Grey Phalarope 2Grey Phalarope – flew right in front of Parrinder Hide

Whenever the Grey Phalarope disappeared from view behind the reeds, we turned our attention to the other birds out on the scrape. There was a nice selection of waders. A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits were roosting out in the shallow water. Through the scope, we could see there was a mixture of paler adults and more richly coloured juveniles. As one preened, we could see its barred tail. Nearby, a big group of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding. We could see their much plainer, darker grey-brown upperparts.

There were several Ruff out on the freshmarsh too, a mixture of paler adults and browner juveniles. A small flock of Eurasian Golden Plover flew in and landed on one of the islands out in the middle, where they proceeded to bathe and preen before going to sleep.

There were several little groups of Dunlin around the scrape too. They were rather jumpy in the wind and mobile, flying around and feeding in different places, before getting spooked again. At first the two Little Stints were hard to find. They were not feeding with the Dunlin, but at first we located them on their own along the mud the other side, in front of the reeds. The Little Stints were skittish too, and flew round and across in front of us, before dropping down between the islands.

DunlinDunlin – this small flock flew round and landed in front of Parrinder Hide briefly

There are plenty of ducks here now, with large numbers of Eurasian Teal and Eurasian Wigeon in particular having returned for the winter already. Most of the drakes are still in rather drab eclipse plumage, but some are starting to moult out already. A small group of Wigeon walked across to graze on the island opposite the hide, with a smart drake in amongst them. There were lots of Teal right in front of the windows, which gave us a great opportunity to look at the differences in moult progress between them. The drake Gadwall are mostly already back in breeding plumage.

TealEurasian Teal – this drake is just starting to moult out of eclipse plumage

There were a few passerines on the freshmarsh too. Little flocks of Linnets kept fluttering about on the edge of the water. A couple of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the short grass on the islands and a Meadow Pipit or two appeared with them. A Skylark flew in and dropped down on the grass.

Eventually, with the weather improving, we decided to head out towards the beach. We popped into the other side of the Parrinder Hide, but the Volunteer Marsh from this side looked largely deserted, apart from several Redshanks. A female Eurasian Kestrel was perched on one of the fence posts along the edge of the bank. As we left the hide, the Kestrel flew off across the mud, flushing the Redshanks which called noisily and several Linnets which had been hiding in the vegetation.

KestrelEurasian Kestrel – perched on the fence posts on the edge of Volunteer Marsh

There were more waders on the far side of the Volunteer Marsh, in the tidal channel viewable from the main path. They were mostly Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks, plus a couple of Curlew. But towards the back, occasionally hiding down in the muddy creeks, we found our first Grey (aka Black-bellied) Plover of the day.

There is still quite a lot of water on the Tidal Pools, but as soon as we got over the bank, we could see several Black-tailed Godwits, and a couple were very close to the path. We got a great look them as they fed in the deep water. A Little Grebe was diving nearby, but quickly swam over and hid beneath the vegetation overhanging the bank as we walked up.

Black-tailed GodwitBlack-tailed Godwit – showing well on the Tidal Pools

Further over, we could see a couple of small flocks of Eurasian Oystercatchers out on the saltmarsh and one of the spits which juts out into the water. A closer look through the scope revealed several Grey Plover roosting on the spit too, but most of the birds were hiding on the other side of the spit, in the lee of the wind. A flock of Ruddy Turnstone flew in and landed down in the saltmarsh with the Oystercatchers.

We continued on to the beach and stopped to scan the sea from the other side of the dunes, out of the wind. Our attention was drawn to a Great Crested Grebe hauled out on the sand on the edge of the water. It didn’t look particularly well. There were several more Great Crested Grebes out on the sea and a careful scan revealed a single Red-throated Diver though it was a little too far out to see easily in the swell and we lost it when it dived. Two Common Scoter close inshore were much easier to see.

Common ScoterCommon Scoter – these two were swimming just offshore

There were not many birds moving offshore today, though we did manage to pick up a handful of Brent Goose flying in for the winter and a little party of three Shelducks, probably returning after going over to the continent to moult out at the Waddensee.

The tide was already coming in fast and the mussel beds were covered. A large flock of Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwits were roosting on the sand towards Brancaster, but as the tide continued to rise they took off and flew in over the beach and off towards the reserve. There were also several silvery grey and white Sanderling running around on the beach like clockwork toys.

It was already midday now, so we decided to start walking back slowly for lunch. We stopped again at the Tidal Pools where more waders had gathered to roost. Through the scope, we had a good look at a mixed group of Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers. A single (not so Red) Knot appeared from behind them and started to bathe in the shallow water. A smart Redshank close to the path looked particularly striking with the sun highlighting its red legs and red-based bill.

RedshankRedshank – its red legs and bill base catching the sun

We stopped briefly at the Freshmarsh to see if anything new had arrived in our absence. A few more Golden Plover had flown in and gone to sleep on the islands. There had been a Dotterel here with them briefly yesterday, though there were also a lot more Golden Plover then, and there was no sign of it at all today.

When we got back to the trees, we took a diversion around Meadow Trail. There had been a Yellow-browed Warbler here earlier, but it was always going to be difficult to see today given the wind. At first, all we could find were a few tits and a single Chiffchaff. There were several Common Darter dragonflies basking in the sunshine out of the wind on the boardwalk which we flushed as we walked along.

Common DarterCommon Darter – basking in the sunshine on the boardwalk

Then as we got round to the dragonfly pool, we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the sallows. Unfortunately, it had chosen the windy side of the boardwalk, and it was deep in the bushes – there seemed little chance it would come out this side. We had a quick look along Fen Trail, in case it worked its way through that way, but there was no sign. A flock of Long-tailed Tits had just gone across the path and possibly it was following behind them.

As we were eating lunch in the picnic area, we heard the Yellow-browed Warbler calling again, from deep in the sallows between where we were sitting and Fen Trail. We could hear Long-tailed Tits calling too, and we were hopeful initially they might be working their way through the trees towards us, but instead they disappeared off in the other direction. A Sparrowhawk flew over and several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese headed off east.

While we were getting ready to move on again, we were informed that several Bramblings had been showing around the feeders at the Visitor Centre. We stopped by the first set of feeders, where they had been on the ground, and waited a while. All we could see were Chaffinches feeding here. It was only when we went round to the feeders the other side that we discovered they had moved round there. We were treated to great views of at least two female Bramblings and two very smart males. There were also a few Siskins in the tops of the alders.

BramblingBrambling – a smart male around the feeders behind the Visitor Centre

After enjoying the Bramblings, we set off out along Fen Trail again. There was no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler this time. A Kingfisher called from the dragonfly pool, but we didn’t see it. We carried on round to Patsy’s Reedbed, where there were fewer birds today. A smattering of ducks included just one Tufted Duck. A couple of Common Snipe were feeding along the bank at the front. As we continued out along East Trail, we flushed a couple of Song Thrushes from the hedge ahead of us. A tight flock of about thirty Siskin flew past us and headed off west.

We stopped at the end of Autumn Trail to scan the back of the freshmarsh. It didn’t take long to find three Spotted Redshanks, asleep by the fence at the back of the Avocet Island. We thought the corner of the scrape round the back here might have been more sheltered from the wind, but it was whistling through here too. It seemed an unlikely day for good views Bearded Tits, given the wind, but one male did fly in and land very close to us. Unfortunately it was too quick for everyone to get onto, shuffling up into the top of the reeds, which were swaying around in the breeze, before flying off over the bank.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – this male appeared only briefly in the tops of the reeds

The afternoon was getting on now, so we made our way slowly back to the Visitor Centre. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew out of Willow Wood and landed in one of the dead trees on the edge of the reedbed as we passed. We had obviously tired everyone out, because they immediately sank down onto the benches and picnic tables when we got back. We stopped just long enough to see a couple of Bramblings, back the other side of the centre now, then managed to get everyone moving again towards the car before they got too settled.

Rather than another walk, we decided to have a quick drive round via Choseley to see what we could see next. It was rather windy up on the ridge and nothing was very settled. There was a big flock of Goldfinch in the hedge and several coveys of Red-legged Partridges in the fields. We flushed a few Brown Hares as we drove past, which sprinted off across the fields – or across the road in front of us in one case.

At this point, we received a message to say there was a Bean Goose back along the coast, so as this was on our way back, we decided to head straight over there. We found somewhere to park and were directed to the bird, which was with a flock of Pink-footed Geese in a stubble field by the road. We could immediately see its day-glo orange legs and patterning on the bill, very different from the more muted pink on the Pink-footed Geese, so everybody had a quick first look at it through the scope.

There are two subspecies of Bean Goose we get here, treated by some now as separate species in their own right. Tundra Bean Goose occurs quite frequently in with the flocks of Pink-footed Geese in the winter. Taiga Bean Goose is considerably rarer here. There are two regular wintering sites for Taiga Bean Goose in the UK – on the Slamannan Plateau in Scotland and down at Cantley & Buckenham Marshes in the Norfolk Broads – and they are very unusual away from these sites. We were immediately struck by the large amount of orange on this birds bill. Then it stood up amongst the Pinkfeet and lifted its head – it was head and shoulders above the other geese – it had to be a Taiga Bean Goose!

Taiga Bean Goose 1Taiga Bean Goose – a rare visitor here, away from a regular wintering site in the Broads

There was also a single Barnacle Goose down with the Pinkfeet, but it didn’t get as much attention as its more exotic – distant – relative. We do get wild Barnacle Geese here from time to time but there is also a feral population a short distance away at Holkham, and this bird had most likely just come from there.

The Taiga Bean Goose was getting a bit of hassle from the Pink-footed Geese, which would occasionally chase or peck out at it. It came out into the stubble in front of the other geese, stopped to preen, then took off on its own and flew up towards the road. It landed out of view in a dip in the ground, but by working our way along behind the hedge on the other side of the road, we managed to find a place from which we could see it.

Taiga Bean Goose 2Taiga Bean Goose – not much smaller than the Greylags

The Taiga Bean Goose was very close now, feeding this time with a small group of Greylag Geese. We could see it was a big goose, not much smaller than the Greylags, and with a long, thin, almost swan-like head and neck. The bill was long and thin and extensively marked with orange, very different from the stubbier bill of a Tundra Bean Goose. We had a great view and watched it for several minutes at close quarters. Eventually, the geese started to work their way back down the field, so we decided to leave them to it.

It was a very nice surprise to catch up with not only a Bean Goose, but a Taiga Bean Goose at that, on our way home. A great way to end another exciting day out.


15th Mar 2017 – Spring Brecks

A Private Tour in the Brecks today, it was to be a relaxed paced day, though that would not hinder us in any way. By 9am, the sun was shining and there was wall to wall blue sky overhead, a glorious day to be out birding.

Our first destination was to be Drymere and Cockley Cley, with Great Grey Shrike and some of the other breeding birds of the forest clearings our targets. As we walked down the ride from the car park, we spotted a pair of Yellowhammers in a small oak tree ahead of us. They dropped down to the ground and started feeding in the long grass and were seemingly unconcerned as we walked right past.

6O0A0111Yellowhammer – the bright yellow-headed male

We walked on a little further along one of the rides, hoping we might bump into a Woodlark, but at first we couldn’t hear any. Then, as we turned to walk back, one flew up from the clearing and began singing its beautiful but rather melancholy song. It hovered up into the air and started to fly round high above the ground. A second Woodlark appeared too, from roughly where the first had come, and flew up into a small tree on the edge of the path. We got it in the scope and had a great look at it, noting the rusty cheeks and striking pale supercilium.

IMG_2032Woodlark – started singing from its perch up in a small tree

At first we thought the second bird might be a female Woodlark, the two having flown up from the same spot, but then it started singing quietly too. It is a real sound of early spring in the forest, listening to the Woodlarks singing in the clearings. As we made our way back to the main ride, a Tawny Owl hooted from deep in a conifer plantation – we have heard a couple of daytime hooters in here in recent days.

The Great Grey Shrike had been favouring a young plantation further down, but when we got there we couldn’t find any sign of it. After a quick look round, we bumped into another couple of birders who told us it had been there earlier, but had been flushed by a dogwalker and flown off. We decided to try our luck elsewhere.

We made our way round to another clearing where we thought there was a chance the shrike might be. As we walked up along the path, we heard a distinctive ringing song from the plantation alongside. It was a Willow Tit, a very scarce bird these days. We hoped it might come out onto the edge but it remained deep in the trees. Unfortunately only a Coal Tit emerged into the sunshine. We listened to the Willow Tit for a while, before turning our attention back to the clearing.

There was no sign of the shrike here either, but looking up into the blue sky and we spotted a Goshawk in the distance, flying towards us. It was getting warm now, with bright sunshine and light winds, and the Goshawk gained height quickly. We noticed a couple of Common Buzzards above it first, then more raptors higher up still. On closer inspection, there were five Goshawks with the Buzzards, all circling together! It is quite a rare occurrence to see quite so many all at once, so we were very pleased but they were high and some distance away, so it was hard to make out much detail.

Fortunately, the next thing we knew we heard a Goshawk calling and an adult male circled up slowly above the trees, much closer to us. It was in no hurry, lurking behind the tops for several minutes before it finally gained height. We could even get it in the scope, noting its clean grey upperparts and striking white underneath. As it circled higher, it alternately disappeared against the blue sky and then flashed white as it turned towards us.

6O0A0143Goshawk – a male circled up out of the trees calling

We lost sight of it as it went higher but, when we heard it calling again, we looked across to see a second Goshawk with it. This was a young bird, a juvenile born last year, with peachy orange tinged underparts and darker brown above. The juvenile female, bigger than the male, was displaying, flying across over the trees with very deep, exaggerated wingbeats. The adult male Goshawk then responded, calling again and doing a burst of rollercoaster display, closing its wings and swooping down before turning up sharply again, repeating this three or four times, losing height all the time back down towards the trees.

That would have been good enough, but we were in for a further treat. The male Goshawk then appeared again, even closer, slow flapping out from the trees and over the ride ahead of us with his white undertail coverts puffed out. The reason soon became clear, as we noticed the big juvenile female Goshawk was circling away to our left over a young plantation. Our view was obscured at first by some trees, but walking quickly forwards we had clear views as she circled overhead for a couple of minutes, gradually drifting further back. Fantastic views and a real treat to see one up so close!

6O0A0203-001Goshawk – this juvenile female circled overhead for a couple of minutes

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Goshawks and make our way back. On the way, we saw several butterflies out in the spring sunshine, Comma, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock (we would also add Red Admiral to the list later, at Lynford). Several Chiffchaffs were singing from the young plantations – they have arrived back in numbers in the past few days and are busy establishing territories. As we walked along beside a block of mature trees, we could hear the cones crackling in the heat, as they opened and dropped their seeds.

The Great Grey Shrike has been favouring a couple of different areas in recent days, so with it having been disturbed from one, we thought we would take a look at the other. As soon as we walked along the ride and out through the trees, we could see a white shape sat right on the top of a bush in the clearing, even with the naked eye. There was the shrike! It flew across and landed on a young oak tree by the path.

IMG_2078Great Grey Shrike – still in one of its favoured clearings at Cockley Cley

We got the Great Grey Shrike in the scope and had a good look at it. It was not too far away, but we didn’t want to disturb it by trying to get too close, as some others have been doing in recent days. However, while we were watching it, a couple of walkers came down the ride behind us and continued straight on past, despite us obviously looking at something along the path. As they got close to the tree, the Great Grey Shrike was off, in a bounding flight. Fortunately, it came towards us and landed much closer. Now we had really a great view here – we could even see the hooked tip to its bill.

When the Great Grey Shrike flew again, we decided to leave it in peace and make our way back to the car. Having enjoyed such fantastic views of Goshawk here, we now didn’t need to go and look for them elsewhere, so we decided to head over to the RSPB Reserve at Lakenheath Fen. We wouldn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, but it would be a nice place to have lunch and use the facilities. In fact, it was just about lunchtime when we arrived so we stopped for a bite to eat, enjoying the sunshine on the picnic tables outside today.

6O0A0242Reed Bunting – in the sallows by the feeders, waiting to come in

After lunch, we walked up to the visitor centre and out towards the Washland viewpoint. There were several Reed Buntings still coming in to the seed on the bird tables by the visitor centre, but not so many other birds here today. There has been a pair of Garganey on Hockwold Washes in recent days, which we hoped to see. We were told that they were asleep on one edge, but we hadn’t been up at the Washland viewpoint long when a patrol boat came along the river and flushed a lot of the ducks. A couple of Water Pipits flew up from the bank too, calling, but they were hard to get onto as they landed again quickly.

All the ducks flew round and thankfully landed back on the water again. It didn’t take us long to find the pair of Garganey, out in the middle of Washes, the drake giving himself away with his bright white eye stripe catching the sun. They were feeding actively, upending constantly, but they swam steadily back towards us as they did so. We could now see the ornate, elongated scapulars hanging down over the drake’s flanks.

IMG_2098Garganey – this pair were on Hockwold Washes again today

There were plenty of other ducks here too. A party of Wigeon were whistling, the drakes with the creamy yellow stripe up the front of their heads. There were lots of tiny Teal and shovel-billed Shoveler. Several Tufted Ducks and Pochard were busy diving and a pair of Shelduck dropped in. The rather dull coloured Gadwall were in danger of being overlooked – we got them in the scope but unfortunately they were too far away to appreciate their true beauty! The Washland provided a pleasant post-lunch stroll, but we wanted to spend the afternoon at Lynford Arboretum. So, with time pressing, we headed back to the car park.

When we arrived at Lynford, we made our way over the road and up along the path. Several Siskins were feeding in the larches, taking advantage of all the cones popping today to help themselves to some seeds. We could hear Goldcrests singing and watched as one flew across between the trees.

At the feeders, we were told that a couple of Hawfinches had been seen down on the ground earlier, but had been disturbed by the ubiquitous Grey Squirrels! We stopped for a scan anyway, to see what was there. A Nuthatch kept dropping in down on the ground and a steady stream of tits came in to the feeders and fat balls.

We could hear Hawfinches calling from the trees beyond, so we made our way along a little further and looked back into the tops. However, while we were scanning for activity, a quad bike came out of the trees and round on the path past the chicken run. It spooked a single Hawfinch from the trees, but that flew off across the clearing and disappeared deep into the plantation at the back, before anyone could get onto it.

The Hawfinches went quiet for a bit after that disturbance. We went back to the feeders, and contented ourselves with watching the Bramblings. A few were feeding in the leaf litter on the ground but several kept returning to the same couple of branches a few metres up in the Beech trees. Through the scope, we could see that the branches were wet with sap and on one we could even see three fresh, small holes in the bark. The Bramblings were drinking the sap, either wiping their bills sideways on the wet bark or supping it directly from the holes. This is not something which is often recorded, so it was great to be able to watch it.

IMG_2125Brambling – drinking sap from holes in the bark of a beech tree

While we were standing by the feeders, we heard a Firecrest calling behind us. We walked over into the Arboretum and found it flitting around in a small holly tree. Unfortunately, it was moving so fast it was hard for everyone to get a good look at it. It came out on to the edge briefly, but disappeared straight back in. It sang once briefly but then quickly flew back into the fir trees behind and went quiet.

Fortunately, the Hawfinch activity resumed shortly afterwards. Someone spotted two fly in to the trees at the back of the chicken run clearing. The birds landed deep in the trees, but thankfully with their help we were able to get one of them in the scope, a grey brown female, but still sporting a massive nutcracker of a bill. They didn’t stay for very long, but when they flew again they were accompanied by another four, the six Hawfinches all flying off towards the bridge.

IMG_2145Hawfinch – this female perched up obligingly in the top of the Beech trees

Despite the mass exodus, we could still hear the electric ‘ticking’ call of more Hawfinches in the trees and then another two females appeared high in the beeches above the feeders. This was a much better view, with one perched obligingly in the open, framed by the opening buds. After a few minutes they flew off too, but we could still hear ‘ticking’ from the trees.

We walked back towards the feeders to see if we could possibly find one down on the ground, but then heard ‘ticking’ from the Arboretum side of the path. We looked across to see a male Hawfinch perched high in the top of a fir tree. It was silhouetted against the sun at first, but we made sure we had a good look at it in case it flew off. Then we made our way quickly round through the Arboretum to the other side of the fir tree. Thankfully, it stayed perched up in the top, clambering around in the thin branches, calling constantly.

IMG_2217Hawfinch – a brighter male, perched in the top of a fir tree

The Hawfinch seemed to be enjoying the afternoon sunshine from high up on its perch. From this angle, we could see it was much more richly coloured than the female, with russet tones around the face and crown and a contrasting grey nape. A very smart bird! We watched it for some time before eventually it dropped down further into the Arboretum, out of view. We took that as a cue to move on down to the paddocks.

Down at the bridge, we were hoping to find some Common Crossbills coming down to drink. As we arrived, we could hear Crossbills calling, but the six of them flew out and disappeared away over the pines before we could get round and into position. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long before another pair flew in and landed high in the poplars. A bright red male was accompanied by a grey-green female. They perched high up in the branches for a few minutes before flying across into the young pines.

That was great, at least we had seen some Crossbills, but given how they have been performing here recently, we rather fancied a closer look. We walked down to the pines to see if we could find any feeding in here, but the cones here too were cracking in the heat and falling off the trees naturally, which meant we wouldn’t be able to hear where any Crossbills were feeding. We had a look anyway, but couldn’t find any in the trees they have been favouring.

There were three Marsh Tits chasing each other through the bushes along the edge of the paddocks, and we walked round to have a look at the Long-tailed Tit’s nest, which has made quite a bit of progress since yesterday and looks almost finished now.

6O0A0248Long-tailed Tit’s nest – made considerable progress since yesterday afternoon

As we walked back, we heard Crossbills calling back at the bridge and when we got there we could see four up in the poplars now. There were two rather dull rusty males, not bright red like we had seen earlier, and what appeared at first to be a grey-green female next to them. When she finished preening, we could see that she was actually quite an advanced juvenile, with considerable patches of new feathering, but still some streaks on her flanks. A rather brown and streaky fresh juvenile Crossbill was nearby for comparison.

The views here were better than we had enjoyed earlier and the Crossbills stayed in the trees for some time, the older birds preening and the fresh juvenile clambering around eating leaf buds. Eventually, they flew off towards the pines and we made our way back to the bridge. We stood here for a while, watching the various birds coming and going from the seed put out for them. A Marsh Tit darted in a couple of times and a Nuthatch tried its luck on one of the wooden posts further back. There was a steady stream of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits too, and a single Reed Bunting.

6O0A0262Long-tailed Tit – coming down to the seed at the bridge

While we were watching all the other birds coming to the seed, we heard a Crossbill calling and saw it land in the alders nearby. It was a very smart, bright red male, but just as we were getting the scope on it, it flew again, but came straight towards us and landed above our heads. Here it perched for a while in the sun, singing. Stunning views!

6O0A0332Common Crossbill – this bright red male perched above us singing

When the male Crossbill flew again, it was followed by a female which we hadn’t noticed arrive with him. The two of them dropped down to drink at a puddle nearby, before flying back up and chasing each other off through the trees. It was getting late now, so we thought that would be a nice way to end the day, and started to make our way back.

When we got to the car park, we were just loading up the car when we heard a crest calling from somewhere high in the fir trees. We walked round to where we could hear it better and sure enough it was a Firecrest, as we thought. We looked right up to the treetops, where the last of the afternoon sun was just catching the highest branches, and we could see it flitting around. There were lots of small flies up there, buzzing around the tree, and it kept flycatching into them. We could just make out its distinctive black and white striped face. The Firecrest sang briefly, then it disappeared back into the trees and we resumed our packing up and departed for the journey home.

What a glorious day in the Brecks it had been, with such fantastic views of so many of our local specialities.

19th Feb 2017 – Late Winter Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Late Winter Birding tours today, our last day and we made our way down to the Brecks. This was forecast to be the best day of the weekend, but after better than expected weather on Friday and Saturday, it remained stubbornly cloudy through the day today. Still, we made the best of it and managed to see all the specialities we were looking for. After the drive down to the Brecks, we regrouped in Swaffham (so members of the group could make a quick getaway at the end of the day) and set off to explore the forest.

Our first stop saw us at a site from which we could overlook the forest. We were just setting the scope up and the first bird we saw as we lined it up on the trees was a Goshawk. It was just a glimpse between the tops of trees. We expected it to circle up above the canopy, but it but didn’t. A few seconds later another local standing nearby asked ‘is that a Buzzard in the tree’, but as we swung the scope onto it, we could see that it was a juvenile Goshawk, perched in the top of a fir tree. It was obviously huge, very brown-toned above and spotted with pale feathers (the adults are grey above). Unfortunately it quickly dropped down again into the trees, before the whole of group could get a look at it through the scope.

Encouraged by our early Goshawk sighting, we waited for a reappearance. With the low cloud today, and cool conditions, there was less raptor activity in terms of numbers but still we saw a great variety. The Common Buzzards were coming and going all the time, though not circling up high into the sky. A rather pale bird caught the eye on a couple of occasions – Common Buzzards are very variable and there are some very white birds around. A Kestrel perched on a post. A Sparrowhawk circled up, and was pursued by a pair of Crows. Even a Peregrine put in a brief appearance, circling over behind us before disappearing behind the trees. But there was no more sign of Goshawk.

There were other things to see while we waited. A large flock of Redwings flew up and perched in the top of the trees, before flying down to the field below. Through the scope we could see their prominent pale superciliums. A large bare tree over the other side held four thrushes – two Mistle Thrushes, a Fieldfare and another Redwing. A little later, one of the Mistle Thrushes  started singing. There were several Skylarks around and they were singing despite the cool weather. A couple of Yellowhammers flew round in front of us calling. A flock of Linnets whirled over the field periodically.

6o0a7520Brown Hare – we watched a couple of pairs chasing round the fields

There was one pair of Brown Hares each side of us in the fields. They spent a lot of time just feeding, but we did watch one pair as the male chased the female in circles for a while. She didn’t turn round and ‘box’ him though, unfortunately. He seemed to lose interest fairly quickly and they resumed feeding.

Eventually we could see some brighter weather approaching from west. The sun just poked out from behind clouds, enough to light up the trees in front of us. More Common Buzzards circled up, gaining a little more height too than they had all morning. Finally the juvenile Goshawk appeared again, flying low across over the tops of the trees. As we watched it, we could see see why – an adult Goshawk was chasing it, silvery grey above and gleaming white below in the sunshine.

The two Goshawks flew across the length of the line of trees in front of us and disappeared into the wood in the corner. All the Woodpigeons scattered from the wood as they flew in. A short while later, the adult Goshawk flew back again low over the trees, across to where it had come from. Presumably it felt it had achieved its mission, chasing off the youngster.

Then the juvenile Goshawk started to drift back too. It circled up out of the trees, giving us a chance to get it in the scope and everyone managed to get a look at it. The upperparts were brown and the black-streaked apricot toned underparts caught the sun. Then it dropped down behind the trees again and we decided to move on.

Our next stop was at St Helens picnic site. As we drove in, we could see some Bramblings on the ground among the leaves. There were a lot of cars here today, so it was obviously rather disturbed and the Bramblings were very flighty. As we got out of the car, the last of them flew up into the trees, and they gradually started to fly off calling. We drove round to the other side of the car park to see if they had landed over there, but when we came back round we found a good number of them had landed again back where they had been at first.

6o0a7541Brambling – a bright male, with only limited black visible on its head

By carefully positioning the car, we had nice views of the Bramblings feeding on the beech mast. They were very hard to see among the orange leaves, but there were at least 20 of them still. The brighter males were noticeably variable, with some already getting blacker heads.

After watching the Bramblings for a while, we drove over to Santon Downham for an early lunch. A Greenfinch was singing from the birches in the car park. A Goldcrest was flitting around in a fir tree singing and we could hear a Marsh Tit singing nearby. Spring was obviously in the air! There were more Bramblings here too, dropping down out of the taller trees into the gardens.

After lunch, we drove deeper into the Forest.We parked up and walked down a ride to a large clearing. It is normally very quiet here, but just as we arrived at the clearing we met a dog walker coming the other way. We were hoping to find a Woodlark here, but with the dogs having just gone through their favoured area, we thought we might be out of luck. However, as we turned the corner two Woodlarks flew up in front of us.

img_0771Woodlark – dropped down into the top of a fir tree

The Woodlarks started singing, a much more melancholy song than a Skylark. They fluttered up, gaining height, but then flew round, song flighting over the clearing. One then dropped down and landed in the top of a fir tree out in the middle, where we could get it in the scope. We had a great view of it, the bright rusty ear coverts, the well-marked supercilia meeting on the back of the nape in a shallow ‘v’. Eventually it dropped down onto an open patch of ground, but still managed to disappear into the low vegetation.

We were just looking for the Woodlark, when we heard the faint ‘glip, glip’ call of a Common Crossbill. They are often to be heard flying over here, but when the calls were repeated they seemed to be coming from the same place. We scanned across the tops of the trees and could see a Crossbill perched up partly obscured, in the bare branches in the top of a deciduous tree. We repositioned ourselves for a clearer line of sight and got it in the scope.

img_0782Crossbill – a male perched nicely for us in the top of a tree

The Crossbill was a male – we could see its rusty orange overall colour. Through the scope, we could also see its distinctive crossed mandibles. Its throat feathers were moving and it appeared to be singing quietly, although we couldn’t hear it from where we were standing. Then it dropped back into the trees and disappeared.

Our main target for the afternoon was Hawfinch, and it was now time for us to get back to Lynford to await their arrival. As we walked down the path beside the Arboretum, we stopped by the feeders. There were lots of Bramblings in the leaves, along with several Chaffinches, but they were very hard to see. They were very well camouflaged, but they were throwing beak-fulls of leaves up in the air to look for beech mast, which rather gave their presence away. It was funny to watch too!

6o0a7583Brambling – a female in the leaves, Chaffinch in the foreground

6o0a7590Bramblings – two males in the leaves, with different degrees of black heads

Down at the bridge, there was lots of seed which had been put out. A steady stream of tits were coming down to feed, mostly Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits but also a few Great Tits and a Coal Tit. A single Marsh Tit kept darting in, grabbing some seed, and flying back in the bushes to eat it. Overhead, we could hear a cacophony of twittering from all the Siskins in the top of the trees.

6o0a7613Marsh Tit – kept darting in to grab some seed from the bridge

Then it was time to look for the Hawfinches. As we made our way along the side of the paddock, we could already see two distantly in the tree tops behind. We had a quick look through the scope, just to make sure everyone had seen them, and then walked round further for a better view. There were several Hawfinches now, singles or pairs in different trees, and they kept flying between the tops. We spent some time watching them, admiring their large powerful bills, big heads and short tails.

img_0799Hawfinch – several flew down to the trees in the paddocks

Suddenly, several Hawfinches all flew out of the trees together. A couple flew off, but most dropped down into the trees in the paddocks. Here we got much better views of them, low down and not against the brighter sky. After a short while, most of the Hawfinches seemed to make their way back up into the pines. When they all flew round again, it looked like there were around 15 Hawfinches here today. This was not quite as many as recent days, but having enjoyed very good views of them, we started to walk back, perhaps before they were all in.

As we made our way back around the paddocks, a few people were staring up into the pines on the other side. A pair of Common Crossbills were in a small tree by the side of the path. The male was harder to see in the branches at the back,  but we had a great view of the female as she tucked into a pine cone. After working her way round it for a while, pulling it open and taking out the seeds, she dropped the cone and had a quick stretch and preen. Then the pair of Crossbills both flew off over the path calling.

6o0a7715Common Crossbill – the female tucking into a pine cone

6o0a7742Common Crossbill – the female having a stretch afterwards

We continued up past the car park to the old gravel pits beyond. We had hoped to see a Goosander but we were informed when we arrived that they had just flown off, unfortunately. We did manage to find a single drake Goldeneye, a few Tufted Ducks and a couple of Great Crested Grebes. We were just about to give up, when a pair of Mandarin appeared out from behind the overhanging trees. They were followed by a pair of Mallard and the two drakes then had a brief altercation before the pair of Mandarin flew off.

img_0829Mandarin – this pair were on the gravel pits at Lynford

It was time to head back, but we still had one surprise in store. As we drove into Swaffham, we could see a flock of Starlings circling over the houses. By the time we got back to the car park, there were already several thousand overhead and more were coming in all the time from different directions. Several hundred tried to go down into a fir tree earlier than the rest, but they were clearly nervous and promptly took off again.

The Starling murmuration grew and grew, probably numbering over 20,000 birds at its peak. They all flew round overhead for about half hour, twisting and turning, quite an amazing sight. Then suddenly they started to drop down into the trees. They descended in several different places, but a large number went into a couple of holly trees nearby. It was fascinating to watch – when a group decided they were going in to roost, they dropped  out of the sky at speed and went hurtling into their chosen tree, disappearing completely from view. Hundreds and hundreds all went into a single small tree.


6o0a7765Starlings – the murmuration at the end of the day was quite a sight

Once they had decided to go to roost, within just a few minutes all the Starlings had gone. We still could hear them though, even if we couldn’t see them, their noisy chattering coming from the trees all around. It was a stunning sight, and a great way to end three exciting days of winter birding.

27th Jan 2017 – Goshawk & Finch Quest

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. The weather forecast for today wasn’t great  – cold & cloudy, but with the possibility of some brighter intervals. At least it wasn’t meant to be as bad as the last couple of days, which have been rather foggy and bitterly cold.

The real target for the day was Goshawk. These secretive birds are best looked for early in the year on bright sunny days, when they display above the trees. Needless to say, it was not the best day to look for them weather-wise. However, we were more enthusiastic about our prospects as the sun burnt off the mist as we drove down to the Brecks. For a time, it was sunny and blue sky.

We parked at a regular spot and set off in search of raptors. As we scanned the trees, there seemed to be a good number of Common Buzzards up already, five circling together at one point. A Red Kite drifted over lazily, hanging in the air. As it circled back over the trees, it had a go at a pale Common Buzzard perched in the top of a pine, knocking it off its perch. It all felt quite promising, with the low sun just starting to warm the air a fraction after last night’s frost. But then the mist rolled back in and the temperature dropped again. That wasn’t what the forecast had promised us! There were still Common Buzzards to be seen at times, but raptor activity dropped again noticeably.

There was still the chance that a Goshawk might fly out of the trees, so we waited a while, hoping the weather might improve again. There were other birds to be seen. With the sound of gunfire on the horizon, the Pheasants were hiding around the game cover and a covey of Red-legged Partridges went running along the edge looking for cover. Just a few days more now, and they might have survived the shooting season for this year. Three Yellowhammers flew up from the maize and circled over calling. A Skylark flew past and a Fieldfare and a Mistle Thrush both flew over.

A phone call from a friendly local gave us an alternative target to pursue, so we decided to take a break from looking for raptors. A short drive and we were looking at a Glaucous Gull standing in a field. It was a juvenile, with pale biscuit coloured body, distinctive pale wing tips, and a very striking large bill, pink-based with a ‘dipped in ink’ black tip.

img_0194Glaucous Gull – a juvenile with pale wing tips and distinctive bill

There were lots of other gulls loafing around on the other side of the ploughed field – mainly Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, plus a handful of Herring Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull. Apparently, the Glaucous Gull had earlier been in the middle of them, but it had now flown out into the middle of the ploughed field and was picking around among the furrows on its own.

After looking at the gulls, we resumed our search for a Goshawk but decided on a change of tactic. Rather than wait for one to come out of the trees, we thought we might walk through the forest in an area where we have come across feeding birds before. It was an outside chance, but it was worth a go. We drove round to another secluded part of the forest, but when we got there, we found a car parked at the head of the ride. A couple were already walking down the track, with a couple of dogs. If there were to be a Goshawk hiding in the forest here, it was clear that they would flush it before we got to it. Time for plan C!

Back in the car, and we set off again. We hadn’t gone very far when we looked across at the edge of the trees and saw a large bird circling just above the tops. Presumably just another Buzzard? No, a Goshawk! We pulled up and got out of the car, just in time to see it circle up a little higher and then drop back over the trees and disappear from view. It was a brief view but we had finally managed to find a Goshawk out in the mist.

6o0a5222Goshawk – disappearing away over the trees

Presumably the Goshawk had been flushed out of the trees by the couple walking their dogs. If we had followed them, we certainly wouldn’t have seen it at all. It looked like a young bird – rather dark brownish above.

The weather seemed to be improving a little, so we decided to try one more site to see if we could improve on the views we had just had. We parked by another ride and walked into the forest. After a while, we came to a clearing. A female Stonechat flew ahead of us, and joined up with another pair of Stonechats, the three of them feeding in the grass, perching up on the taller dead seedheads and then dropping down to the ground. We flushed a couple of flocks of Meadow Pipits out of the grass too, as we passed. A Mistle Thrush perched in the top of a holly tree, laden with berries, presumably looking to defend it against anyone else looking to try to feed on them. We scanned the trees all around – a Common Buzzard flew over the tops and several Carrion Crows too, but we couldn’t see anything else.

Around the other side of the clearing, we noticed a very small mammal dead on the path. It was a Pygmy Shrew. It looked like it had been caught and then dropped by something – it had a spot of blood on its belly but otherwise looked untouched. It wouldn’t have made much of a meal!

6o0a5232Pygmy Shrew – dead on the path

As we made our way back to the car, a flock of tits came along the line of deciduous trees by the road. They were mainly Long-tailed Tits that we could see at first, but we heard a Treecreeper calling and looked up into a nearby pine to see a Goldcrest flitting around in the needles. A Marsh Tit started calling and flew across the track and into a beech tree. Then a pair of Nuthatches flew across the road and into the top of a tree the other side, where we could see them climbing up and down.

Our next destination was the picnic area at St Helens. This is a great spot for Bramblings and we were not disappointed. As soon as we pulled into the car park, we saw loads of them flying up from the leaves under the beech trees along the edge. We got out and had a walk round. We managed to find a couple of Bramblings perched in the trees, but they were very mobile at first. Eventually, when we walked back to the car, we found they were all feeding over in that corner. Through the scope, we could see about fifteen on the ground all together, but when they were spooked by something, at least sixty Bramblings flew up into the trees. There were a smaller number of Chaffinches with them too.

6o0a5197Brambling – a male at St Helens, photographed yesterday

6o0a5187Brambling – a duller, greyer faced female

There were lots of nice smart males amongst the Bramblings, with brighter orange breast and shoulders. There was quite a bit of variation though, with some having blacker faces but many still much paler. The black head and upperparts of the male Brambling is obscured by pale feather fringes which gradually wear off during the winter, at different rates in different individuals.

Finally, the sun appeared again and we could see pockets of blue sky overhead once more. It was already lunchtime, so we stopped for a bite to eat in the sunshine. While we were there, two Common Crossbills flew over calling. They appeared to drop down towards the trees by the river but once we had walked round to where we could view them, there was no sign of the birds.

After lunch, we drove over to Lynford Arboretum. The feeders looked largely empty today and there was a tractor working noisily nearby, so we carried on down the track to the bridge. As we approached, we could hear Crossbills calling and looked down ahead of us to see a pair come out of the trees and disappear off towards the paddocks.

6o0a5250Long-tailed Tit – coming to the feeder above the bridge

When we got down to the bridge, there wasn’t any food out here either today, part from one feeder. There were plenty of birds though. There were lots of tits – Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long-tailed Tits and a Coal Tit – coming down to the feeder hanging over the bridge. Other birds were flying down to look around the pillars, where more food is usually put out for them. A Marsh Tit or two came in for a look. A Reed Bunting did the same.

6o0a5251Marsh Tit – came in to look for food at the bridge

There were lots of Siskins in the trees, we could hear their constant chattering calls. Most of them were in the tops of the poplars, but one or two came down to drink lower down.

As we started to walk towards the paddocks, we heard a Common Crossbill call and turned round just in time to see it land in the top of the poplars briefly, before dropping down into the trees. Presumably it too had come in to drink. It was no more than a glimpse though. Thankfully, we were finally rewarded with better views when another pair of Crossbills flew in calling and landed in the poplars. These two remained there for some time, allowing us to get them in the scope. We could see their distinctive crossed mandible tips, an orange/red male and a green/yellow female.

6o0a5257Common Crossbill – finally a pair landed so we could get them in the scope

It was already Hawfinch time now, so we hurried down along the paddocks. There have been some very large numbers here in recent weeks, unprecedented in recent years. High counts of 60-80 have been recorded (last night, there were at least 40). The birds fly in late in the day to gather in the trees. From the side of the paddock, we could see at least eight Hawfinches already in the tops of the pines. We got them in the scope, but they were a bit distant from here.

We made our way round to the other side. We wouldn’t be able to count them from here, but we hoped for a better view. We were not disappointed! Over the next half an hour, we had a succession of Hawfinches perched up in the tops of the trees. First a rather pale, grey-brown female. Then a very smart male Hawfinch. Then a group of five in the same tree together, which were promptly joined by two more. It was a real Hawfinch-fest! We got them in the scope, admiring their massive bills, surrounded with black bib and face mask. At one point, the birds in the trees nearest to us flew up and we could see at least twenty all in the air together. Great stuff!

img_0220Hawfinch – lots around this afternoon & great views

Eventually the Hawfinches nearest us started to drop down into the trees. We started to make our way back, round the paddocks. Looking across, we could still see at least twelve Hawfinches still in the tops of the pines, including eight together. These were in a different section of the trees to where we had been able to see earlier, so were probably different birds. Who know how many Hawfinches there were there this afternoon? Certainly a lot! It was quite a treat to see so many.

Delighted with the performance from the Hawfinches, we made our way back to the car park. We had a quick look at the gravel pits the other side of the road, but they were still mostly frozen. A few Mute Swans stood around on the ice and a melee of Gadwall and Tufted Ducks were packed into the small area of open water. Then it was time to call it a day and head for home. Despite the beat efforts of the weather, we had enjoyed a very successful day in the Brecks.

12th Nov 2016 – Autumn Meets Winter, Day 2

Day 2 of a 3 day long weekend of Early Winter tours today. After glorious sunshine yesterday, the weather forecast for today was not so good. Although it did rain at times, it wasn’t quite as bad as forecast and we did have some drier spells. Even so, it doesn’t stop us from getting out birding.

Given the forecast, we started the day in the hides at Cley. Pat’s Pool looked rather empty from Bishop Hide – perhaps a raptor had just been through and flushed a lot of the birds? There were a few Wigeon scattered round the edges and a bigger group of Teal on the island in front of the Teal Hide. A single Lapwing and a Dunlin flew back in and landed on one of the nearer islands, next to a little huddle of Black-headed Gulls.

We had arranged to meet part of the group here, off the bus, so having collected them on our way back, we made our way out towards the main complex of hides. Along the Skirts, a male Stonechat flew along the path ahead of us and sat on a fence post, watching us for a minute or so, before flying a little further back. As we continued on our way, it always stayed a discrete distance ahead of us until we got to the junction in the path.

6o0a8549Stonechat – this male was along the Skirts path this morning

As we opened the shutters on Dauke’s Hide, a small group of Wigeon were on the bank just in front. There were more duck out on Simmond’s Scrape, a nice selection. Several Shoveler were whirling round with their heads constantly down in the water. A lot more Teal were sleeping on the flooded islands. A few Gadwall were feeding over towards the back – one of the smartest but the most underrated of ducks, we had a good look at them in the scope. A single Pintail flew over and disappeared off to the east.

6o0a8552Wigeon – these three were on the bank in front of Dauke’s Hide

Probably avoiding the weather out on the sea, there were several Great Black-backed Gulls on Simmond’s Scrape this morning, a mixture of adults and various ages of immature birds. A single Lesser Black-backed Gull was conveniently standing on one tiny island, next to a lone Great Black-backed Gull, providing a great side-by-side comparison. As well its noticeably smaller size, we could see the yellow legs of the Lesser (pink on the Great) and its slightly paler slate grey mantle.

We could hear a pipit calling, but despite searching round the margins of the scrape, we couldn’t see it. We did see two pipits come up from Billy’s Wash, calling. They were Water Pipits but, despite flying towards us at one point, they circled back round and landed out of view on Billy’s Wash again. When the rain eased off, we decided to make our way back. We could hear Bearded Tits calling by the boardwalk, but they were tucked deep down in the reeds this morning, perhaps not a surprise given the weather.

6o0a8587Egyptian Goose – a pair were on the grazing marsh next to Attenborough’s Walk

Our next destination was Iron Road, where we parked to walk out to Babcock Hide. It had stopped raining completely now and even seemed to have brightened up a little. There was a large gaggle of Greylag Geese on the grazing marshes by the start of Attenborough’s Walk and, further along by the junction to the hide, a pair of Egyptian Geese too. Several small groups of Pink-footed Geese appeared to fly up from the direction of Salthouse. Some of them flew west over the fields to the south of us, while others seemed to head straight inland over the village.

Three Marsh Harriers flew up from Pope’s Marsh and started circling together over the reedbed, presumably taking advantage of the dry weather to head off hunting. Two of them drifted off east towards Salthouse.

As we walked out to the hide, we had seen a flock of about ten Dunlin whirling round over the water before disappearing off over the reeds towards Cley. When we got into the hide, there were thankfully still two Dunlin on the mud right in front. We had great close views of them feeding just in front of us. They were both first winter birds, having mostly completed their moult but still retaining a few juvenile upperpart feathers and the odd remnant of black belly spotting.

6o0a8573Dunlin – two were feeding right in front of Babcock Hide

A single Little Grebe was diving in the deeper water at the back, between the islands. Nearby, were a few Teal and a single Shoveler. When we looked back, the Little Grebe had disappeared but a single female Pintail had floated out from behind the islands. It was most likely the one we had seen flying off in this direction earlier. There were a few Wigeon on here too, but not as many as in recent weeks – presumably they were feeding somewhere more sheltered today.

There were not so many other waders on here today. A couple of Redshank were picking around the edge of one of the islands. A Common Snipe flew over and dropped down beyond the reeds. However, there was a steady progression of small groups of Lapwings flying west overhead, presumably birds arrived from the continent and making their way inland.

A report came through of three Bean Geese with Pink-footed Geese between Salthouse and Kelling, so we decided to head over to have a look. On our walk back to the car, one of the Marsh Harriers was circling over the marshes just the other side of Iron Road. Two Carrion Crows decided to have a go at it and the three birds chased each other for a while. When the crows gave up and landed a short distance away, the Marsh Harrier decided to get its own back and promptly stooped at them, before drifting off back past Babcock Hide.

6o0a8591Marsh Harrier – chased by Crows over the marshes by Iron Road

Unfortunately, by the time we got to the field where the Bean Geese had been, there was no sign of them. It transpired that they had only been seen there much earlier and had probably flown off with the Pink-footed Geese we had seen heading inland on our walk out to Babcock Hide. There were still about thirty Pink-footed Geese in the field so we had a look at them through the scope. In the short winter wheat, it was easy to see their pink legs and feet. Another small group flew in calling and landed with them, but they all had pink legs too.

As we drove back towards Cley again, it started to drizzle again, so we made our way round to the beach car park and had our lunch in the shelter there. While we were eating, a small flock of Golden Plover flew in over the Eye Field and circled over the grass in front of us, before flying back towards the reserve. Several little groups of Brent Geese flew in from the direction of Blakeney Freshes. We kept one eye on the sea, but there was very little moving offshore today. As we were packing up a flock of Teal flew west.

It was starting to rain a little harder now, so we retired to the visitor centre for a warming coffee. Afterwards, it seemed a good time to go exploring inland, so we drove up to Holt first. There had been some Waxwings in the trees here during the week, but we couldn’t find them today. There were just a few Blackbirds in the rowan where they had been a couple of days ago, despite there still being quite a few berries left. The trees where we had seen them last weekend, however, have now been stripped bare.

We drove further east to Felbrigg Park next. We had a look in the trees along the main drive first, but they were quiet. Down at the main car park, by the Hall, there were lots of Blackbirds on the grass. Presumably they were all or mostly continental migrants, having stopped to feed just in from the coast. A single Redwing was trying to bathe in a puddle, when the Blackbirds were not chasing after it.

6o0a8607Redwing – trying to take a bath in Felbrigg Hall car park

On our way back round, we turned into Lions Mouth. Just through the gates a load of finches flew up from the edge of the road and back into the trees, flashing white rumps as they went. Bramblings. We stopped the car and yet more flew up from down below the low brambles on the edge of the woods. We could see several of them perched in the holly trees beyond.

6o0a8625Bramblings – several perched in the holly trees

We parked in the car park and walked back to the road, standing on the verge and looking back towards the gates. Gradually, the Bramblings started to drop down again and we got them in the scope. They were dropping down to feed on beech mast and they were surprisingly well camouflaged against the fallen beech leaves, despite their bright orange breast and shoulders, particularly on the males.

It was still raining a little, so we made our way back to the car and drove down to Sheringham. By the time we got there, the rain had eased again, so we set off for a walk along the prom. There was mist offshore which meant the visibility wasn’t great, but once again there seemed to be nothing moving past. There were plenty of Herring Gulls on the sea and Great Black-backed Gulls and Cormorants adorning the end of each of the groynes.

As we walked along, we came across several Turnstones. One of them in particular was very tame and came running towards us and almost between our feet. Further along, we could see why, as people were throwing out chips for the Black -headed Gulls and the Turnstones were grabbing a share of the fallen ones too. The Turnstones had to be quick, because the Black-headed Gulls proceeded to chase a couple of them – they were fairly relentless too, pursuing them up and down along the beach and out over the sea until the Turnstones dropped their chips.

6o0a8633Turnstone – waiting for chips on the prom

The rocks below the prom are a regularly wintering site for Purple Sandpipers but there didn’t seem to be at any of their regular haunts this afternoon. We walked right along to the eastern end and, as we walked past, one Purple Sandpiper appeared below us. We watched as it climbed up and down, picking around at the seaweed growing on the rock’s surface. When a wave came in and crashed in through the bottom of the rocks, a second Purple Sandpiper appeared from below and climbed up to the top of one nearby.

6o0a8680Purple Sandpiper – two were on the rocks below the prom at Sheringham

When the first Purple Sandpiper appeared, we had just seen a distant diver on the sea and when we had had a good look at both of them, we turned our attention back to looking for it. It was obviously diving as it took a while before we picked it up again. Through the scope we confirmed our suspicions – it was a Great Northern Diver. Then it disappeared again, and despite scanning back and forth for a few minutes it was nowhere to be seen. It had probably drifted back out into the mist and the light was now starting to fade so we decided to call it a day and head for home.