Tag Archives: Brambling

23rd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Coast, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Brecks & Coast Tours. Today we would be heading down to the Brecks for the day. It had been forecast to be cloudy and grey, but it was actually bright with some sunny intervals and light winds. Great early spring weather to be out.

After an earlier than normal start, we made our way down to Thetford Forest. As we set off down a ride through the trees, we could see some people already ahead of us. We were hoping to find some Woodlarks here but the clearing either side of the track further on looked quite quiet at first. Perhaps there was too much disturbance here today?

There were lots of finches flying in and out of the pines though – mostly Chaffinches, Bramblings and Siskins. We got the scope on a Brambling perched in some birches on the edge of the clearing, but it flew off before everyone could get a look at it. A Lesser Redpoll then flew over and dropped in too, but it was similarly brief.

Two birds flew up from the long grass on one side of the track some way ahead of us – a pair of Woodlarks. They circled round and dropped down again, with one landing in a small bush by the path, where we could get it in the scope. We decided to walk a bit further down to get a closer view but we didn’t get far before we heard two cyclists approaching quickly along the track behind us. They seemed to get past the Woodlarks without flushing them and we thought we might be in luck, but then they flew. As they fluttered up we could see their short tails and broad rounded wings, before they disappeared off over the trees.

Cutting across to the riverbank, we walked down past the poplars. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers chased each other through the tops and the male landed on the trunk of one of the trees. A good start, but not the woodpecker we were hoping to see here!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – a pair flew in through the trees as we walked up

As we got around the corner, we could see a small group of people standing on the path looking up into the trees. We hurried up to them and they confirmed that they were watching the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, three of them together! They were displaying and we watched them chasing each other through the branches. Each time they landed, we got them in the scope, but they weren’t staying still for long.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers disappeared back into the birches behind, then after a minute or so chased each other back out into the tops of the poplars. Two seemed to be in the lead, with the third woodpecker following behind. They gradually made their way further down through the trees and we managed to follow them for a while. Then they flew off further and we lost sight of them in some thicker trees further downstream.

We walked down to where we had seen the woodpeckers disappear, but there was no sign of them here. If they kept going as they had been they could be anywhere by now! There were a few more birds here. We found a Nuthatch excavating a hole in a tree and could see its head poke out from time to time to throw out the wood shavings. A Treecreeper made its way up the trunk of another tree. We noticed some movement on the vegetation trapped around a fallen tree across the river behind us and turned to see a Grey Wagtail feeding quietly.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding by a fallen tree across the river

Someone coming back from further downstream told us the otters had been along the river much further down, so we thought we would go to try to see them. There were Chiffchaffs singing in the trees and we stopped to admire a Stock Dove whooping on top of a dead trunk. A Common Buzzard circled up over the trees beyond.

Another couple of photographers coming back along the path told us the otters were heading back our way so we stopped and waited but there was no sign of them. We had a quick look up and down the river, but presumably the otters had come out of the water and disappeared. We did find a Kingfisher which zipped off across the river as we approached.

As we made our way back, we looked and listened for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers but there was no further sign of them now. A Water Rail squealed from the far bank of the river and then flew across to our side, disappearing behind some trees. As we walked on, we found it on the other side of the path but it flew off into the reeds.

As we made our way back round by the reedbed, we stopped to admire the finches in the trees where they were coming down to drink from the pines. Finally we had better views of a smart male Brambling which perched up more obligingly. There were Bramblings singing here too – more of a wheeze than a song, but always interesting to hear. It won’t be long now before they are back off to Scandinavia for the breeding season.

It was sunny and warming up nicely now, so we made our way over to a place overlooking the forest. We hadn’t been out of the van long before we picked up two Goshawks circling up away to the east. They were both adults and both males. They soared higher and higher into the sky and we lost sight on one as the other drifted towards us. We could see their very white underparts and broad-based tails.

Goshawk

Goshawk – circled up high above us

We had lost sight of them when a female Goshawk came up out of the trees close to where we had first seen the earlier ones. As it circled over the pines, we could see it was a big and powerful bird, with very pale grey upperparts. With the warm air, it gained height very quickly. Then we spotted a second Goshawk nearby, high in the blue sky. It was noticeably smaller, a male, possibly one of the two we had seen earlier. The female started to display, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. Then presumably having warned off the male, she dropped back down towards the trees.

We were treated to great views of the Goshawks in the 45 minutes or so we spent here. There were lots of Common Buzzards up enjoying the thermals too, and a Kestrel. When a female Sparrowhawk came up out of the trees as well, we could see it looked smaller and darker grey. As it started flapping, we could see its very fast bursts of wingbeats.

There were a few Brown Hares in the fields here and one or two Lapwing and Red-legged Partridges. A Woodlark fluttered across at the back and disappeared over the trees beyond.

It was time for lunch now, so we headed over to Lynford Arboretum and made use of the picnic tables in the parking area. Afterwards, as we made our way over to the road, we heard a Firecrest singing from somewhere high in the fir trees. We stopped to listen for it, but unfortunately it had gone quiet.

Down at the gate, there was not much seed left on the ground and the feeders were looking rather empty too. There were still a few Bramblings and Chaffinches coming down to the leaves beyond the small pool and a Yellowhammer dropped down with them too.

Continuing on down towards the bridge, a large flock of Fieldfares flew over tchacking noisily. We looked up into the fir trees to see the Tawny Owl back hiding in its usual roost spot. It is very hard to see unless you are in just the right spot and the view is generally looking up from underneath it, so you often can’t see its head until it looks down.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the top of one of the fir trees again

There were a few tits coming in to the seed put out on the pillars of the bridge, so we stopped to see what else we could see. A male Reed Bunting duly appeared. While we were scanning the trees, we noticed some movement deeper in and focusing on it with binoculars we could see a couple of Common Crossbills dropping down through the branches. We thought they might be about to come down to drink under the trees, so we hurried in along the path.

The Crossbills were still perched in the trees but seemed to be in no hurry to drink. At first they were just perched in different trees, but one by one they moved into an alder above the path where we watched them climbing about in the branches and picking at the flowers. By the end, they were right above our heads and we had a really good view of them through the scope. A Marsh Tit was flitting around in the bushes by the path too.

Common Crossbill 1

Crossbill – eventually came down to drink

Then suddenly two of the Crossbills flew over our heads and down into some small trees just above the stream channel by the path. We positioned ourselves and had a great view of them as they came down to drink on the far bank – first a green female and then a rather orangey male. With a diet primarily of resinous pine seeds they need to drink regularly.

The Crossbills all flew back up into the trees towards the bridge, so we made our way back out. It was the turn of the Siskins now. A pair dropped out of the alders above the bridge and down to the reeds in the corner of the lake to drink. We had a great view of the bright yellow-green male when it flew back up into the trees.

Siskin

Siskin – a pair came down to drink by the bridge

Having had great success at the bridge, we decided to walk up to the paddocks to see if we could find a Hawfinch. It was very quiet here in the trees though today – it seems likely that food is now getting in short supply here. It was still a bit too early for them to come in for a pre-roost gathering, so we decided to walk round via the lake.

A Little Grebe laughed at us maniacally from the reeds and another was diving under the overhanging trees on the edge of the island. We stopped to admire a pair of Gadwall on the lake, the drake looking particularly smart with its variety of different feather patterns. Not just a boring grey duck! There were a few Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese on the grass in front of the hall.

Gadwall

Gadwall – not just a boring grey duck!

We walked round the far side of the paddocks, scanning the ground under the trees in the middle to see if we could see anything down in the grass. We found a pair of Goldcrests in the firs on the far side and a Redwing perched high in the poplars in the distance. We figured we could make our way back to the bridge and continue to scan the paddocks in case a Hawfinch should appear.

Back at the bridge, the Water Rail had now appeared. It was hiding in the reeds at first, but eventually came out a bit more into the open where we could get a good look at it.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well when we got back to the bridge

When we heard the ‘glip, glip’ calls of Crossbills, we looked up to see three brighter red males land in the trees above the pool. They made their way gradually down through the branches, before dropping down to the edge of the water to drink. Once again, we were well-placed for a ringside seat!

When they flew back up into the trees, one of the male Crossbills then spent a couple of minutes picking at the bare wood where a large bough had recently broken off one of the alders. Then it perched up in the sunshine on a branch just above.

Common Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – another three males came down to drink later

There was still no sign of the Hawfinches in the paddocks and we still had something else we hoped to do before the end of the day, so we decided to head off. A quick walk round back to the van and we drove over to Weeting Heath.

There had been no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard for over an hour when we arrived, so we went into the visitor centre. While most of the group were queuing for the facilities, two of us walked back out to the car park. Just in time to see the back end of the Rough-legged Buzzard disappearing into the trees on the edge of the field opposite. There was no further sign of it by the time everyone had come back out again. A (Eurasian) Curlew was feeding in the winter wheat field over to one side.

We decided to go down to West Hide to look for the Stone Curlews. There have been three back already in the last week, and two were helpfully standing in the cultivated area towards the front. They were settled down, back onto us at first, but after a few minutes one of the Stone Curlews woke and stood up, turning round so we could get a good look at its pale iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – great views from the hide today

Being later in the afternoon now, and early in the year, there was next to no heat haze which can often be a problem at this site. So we could get a very good look at the Stone Curlews today. Having all had a really good look at them for a while, we decided to make our way back out.

There were a several people out on the verge now, but rather than looking out over the field opposite they were looking up the road. Apparently, the Rough-legged Buzzard had just been seen in a tree from the field entrance further along and someone had helpfully come over to tell everyone. We decided to walk up the road and sure enough, there was the Rough-legged Buzzard perched in a pine tree on the corner of the wood at the back of the field.

The Rough-legged Buzzard flew back round behind the trees, so we continued on to the field entrance, Shortly after we got there, the Rough-legged Buzzard flew out again and landed in another tree further beyond. We had a great view of its white tail with black terminal band as it flew back. Then it did another fly round and landed back in the pine tree closer to us, where we had seen it first. Now we could see its very pale head and contrasting blackish belly patch.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – showed well when we got back out to the road

A flock of Linnets was whirling round the edge of the field beyond the gate and two Curlews flew up calling. Eventually the Rough-legged Buzzard dropped out of the pine and disappeared back round behind the trees again. It had been a great way to end our first day out, down in the Brecks, and it was time to head for home now.

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9th Mar 2019 – Even Breezier Brecks

A regular day tour to the Brecks today. It was very windy, gusting over 50mph at times, which didn’t help us, but at least it stayed dry all day and there were even some sunny intervals at times.

The forecast was for it to be brightest and least windy first thing, so we decided to try for Woodlark initially. As we walked in along a ride, we could hear one singing but it was already very breezy and we couldn’t see where it was. It seemed to be either in the trees of low over the tops out of view. We decided to try again on our way back.

A Stonechat was chatting over by the railway line and one or two Siskins flew back and forth overhead calling, but otherwise it was quiet as we made our way round via the reedbed and down to the river. It had been relatively sheltered in the lee of the pines but the poplars were exposed to the full force of the wind and were bending and creaking. The early sun disappeared behind some thick clouds too, which was not what we had been promised.

There was very little activity in the trees here today – just a few Stock Doves and a couple of Jackdaws – as we walked down the path. There was no sight or sound of any woodpeckers today. A Sparrowhawk appeared overhead, over the tops of the poplars. We could see it was noticeably patterned below and rather dark grey above as it banked, with a long narrow tail, square-ended and noticeably pinched-in at the base. A Crossbill flew over the river calling but disappeared behind the trees.

A Grey Wagtail called and we looked over to see it flitting around the tangle of branches where a tree had fallen into the river. It flew down onto the floating vegetation which had been trapped there and started to look for food.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding on the floating vegetation in the river

We carried on down along the path and found a Chiffchaff singing in the willows by the reeds. It was flitting around in the branches which were now covered in catkins, so it was tricky to see at times. Beyond this point, the path started to get rather muddy, so we decided to turn round and head back.

When we got back half way we met a couple of people who told us they had earlier seen one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in the alders on the other side of the river. There was certainly a lot more activity here, where it was a little more sheltered. We stopped to look and could see lots of Siskins feeding in the trees. There was a mixed group of tits here too – Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits and a Coal Tit. A Marsh Tit appeared with them. A Treecreeper worked its way up the trunks of a multi-stemmed tree and a pair of Nuthatches flew in to the tops. But there was no more sign of the woodpecker – it really wasn’t good weather for looking for them today.

As we made our way back to the van, a Woodlark flew up from the clearing. It didn’t really break into song, but gave us a brief few phrases before flying off over the trees. We hadn’t gone much further when it flew back in again and hovered overhead, singing rather half-heartedly again. We could see its distinctive short tail and broad, rounded wings, before it landed in the clearing back behind us.

Woodlark

Woodlark – flew back in and landed in the clearing behind us

We walked back and got the Woodlark in the scope. We had a really good look at it, as it walked around in the short grass and heather. It boldly marked supercilium stood out, the two sides meeting in a shallow ‘v’ at the back, noticeable as it worked its way away from us. It was the male and we could see its bright rusty ear coverts too.

The sky was clearing again from the west and we could see a large area of blue sky approaching, so we decided this would be a good opportunity to try our luck with Goshawks. We drove over to a high point overlooking the forest and got out to scan. It was very exposed here and the wind was really whistling through now. The scopes wouldn’t stand up, so we had to stand in the lee of the van! Our timing was spot on though, as we had not even had time to get set up properly when we spotted our first Goshawk up.

Over the next 40 minutes or so, the Goshawks were up fairly regularly, at least two (we saw two up together) and probably at least three different individuals. They were trying to display, although it looked to be difficult in the wind. The first Goshawk had its white undertail coverts fluffed out and wrapped round the sides of its tail, so it almost looked white rumped as it banked. It seemed to be doing a slow flapping display, but it was hard to tell as it was struggling to hold a level course.

Later a Goshawk came in high over the trees and we saw what was probably the same one we had seen earlier doing a quick burst of slow flapping display. It was flying with exaggerated, deep wingbeats, until it turned across the wind it was suddenly swept away. Still, we had good views of the Goshawks while they flew round. They were adults, noticeably pale silvery grey above and appeared almost pure white below, very different from the Sparrowhawk we had seen earlier.

There were several Common Buzzards up too. They seemed to be enjoying the wind, swooping at each other and hanging almost effortlessly in the air at times.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – there were several up enjoying the wind today

Having had good views of the Goshawks, we decided to move on somewhere more sheltered. It was time for lunch, so we headed down to Brandon where we could make use of the picnic tables and get a hot drink.

Being a Saturday, it was a bit busier here today, and there weren’t as many birds coming to the feeders. There was a steady succession of tits – Blue, Great, Long-tailed and Coal Tits – and regular visits from several Siskins, but no sign of any Bramblings coming in here today.

After lunch, we had a quick walk down to the lake. There was no sign of any Mandarin today, and we couldn’t even hear the Firecrest. It was possibly just too windy in the trees for it to be singing here today. We did find a Treecreeper in the edge of the trees – a bonus for those who had missed the one we had seen earlier. As we walked back to the van, we realised where the Bramblings were, as we flushed them from the leaves under the trees where they looked to be feeding on the beech mast.

Brambling

Brambling – feeding in the leaves under the trees today

The Great Grey Shrike had been reported again back in its favoured clearing yesterday and it was apparently still there this morning, so we made our way over there next to look for it. As we walked in along the ride, there was no sign of the large numbers of finches which have been feeding in the pines here in recent days. Whether they have moved on or were just feeding elsewhere out of the wind remains to be seen. So we made our way quickly down to the clearing at the far end.

There were a couple of people walking back who told us the Great Grey Shrike had been seen recently, after a three hour absence, but when we got to the clearing there was no sign of it at first. We were hoping we would not have to wait three hours for it to appear again!

A pair of Stonechats were perched on the fence and a couple of Linnets flew in and landed on the sandy track. As we walked down along the side of the clearing a pair of Woodlarks flew in calling. The female flew straight down into the long grass in the middle but the male landed on the fence for a few seconds before dropping down to join here. Two Crossbills flew over the clearing calling, but disappeared straight off over the pines.

Some more people who were walking back from the far side told us they had seen the Great Grey Shrike fly out into the middle of the clearing about ten minutes ago, but they had lost sight of it. While we stood talking to them, we looked over to the far side and realised we could just see the head of the shrike tucked down in the grass, as the wind blew the vegetation from side to side. Even through the scope, it was very difficult to see but then it helpfully flew up and landed in the top of a taller birch sapling where we could get a good look at it.

The Great Grey Shrike flew back down to where it had been – presumably it was sheltered from the wind down there. We walked a bit further up and found a spot where we could see it better, looking down between the rows of young pines. Now we could get a clear view of its black mask, very pale silvery grey upperparts and white underparts, and black wings and long black tail.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – we finally found an angle where we could get a clear look at it

By the time we had walked all the way back to the van, we were a little later getting away than we had hoped, which meant we were later than planned arriving at Lynford Arboretum, where we would finish the day. As we walked out of the car park, we could hear a Firecrest singing but by the time we got round onto the road where it had been it had gone quiet again.

We had a quick look in the larches but there was no sign of any Crossbills here now, so we carried on to the gate. It seemed a bit quiet here at first, but gradually more birds started to drop down out of the trees to feed on the ground amongst the leaves. The surprise was the number of Yellowhammers – we counted at least ten here together at one point. There were still a few Bramblings too, with several smart males sporting black heads to a greater or lesser degree, but not as many as there have been here recently.

Bramblings and Yellowhammers

Yellowhammers and Bramblings – coming down to feed under the trees

As time was likely to be of the essence on a cold, windy afternoon, we didn’t hang around too long and carried on down towards the bridge. We couldn’t resist a quick stop to look at the Tawny Owl, which was back roosting in its usual spot high in one of the fir trees. It was hard to see, even when it was practically filling the view in the scope, until you realised there was a large eye staring back down at you!

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – staring back down at us from high in a fir tree

There were lots of photographers standing on the other side of the bridge, waiting for Crossbills to come down to drink. They had been in and out earlier, but there was no sign of any now, so we continued straight on to the paddocks. There had apparently been some Hawfinches here earlier, but they had flown off before we got there. There were a few Redwings flying around the trees in the middle, and a Marsh Tit singing in the hedge in front of us, but otherwise it all seemed fairly quiet now.

The Hawfinches can sometimes be found in the tops of the pines at the end of the day, but it didn’t sound like they had flown in that direction today. We looked across and the tops of the trees were swaying vigorously from side to side in the wind. It didn’t look like they would be perching up there this afternoon! The bottom of the trees that side would be sheltered from the wind, so we walked round there anyway to see if we could spot any in the lower branches. There was no sign of them there, but we did find a Firecrest singing. This one posed nicely, flitting around in the branches of a bare tree above our heads.

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing in the trees down by the paddocks

We made our way back round the other side and along by the lake. There were a few Gadwall and Mallard, plus a pair each of Canada and Greylag Goose. One or two Little Grebes were busy diving. One of the group spotted a pair of Common Crossbills perched in the top of one of the alders above the path. We got the scope on the red male and had a good look at it before they flew off. Nice to finally get to see one perched rather than just flying over.

Common Crossbill 1

Common Crossbill – the male perched in one of the alders over the path

Back at the bridge, we heard a couple more Common Crossbills calling in the trees but there was no sign of any coming down to drink now. There were lots of birds coming and going from the feeders and the seed put out on the pillars though. We stopped and watched for a bit, with a good variety of tits including some very close Long-tailed Tits and Marsh Tits. A couple of Reed Buntings here were a nice late addition to the day’s list.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming to the food put out at the bridge

We had another look over at the trees in the paddocks and noticed a large raptor over the pines beyond, a Goshawk. It circled for a minute and then folded its wings and plunged vertically down into the trees. A short while later it reappeared above the trees and we watched it flying off to the south.

It was getting late now, so we started to walk back to the car park. The ground beneath the feeders from the gate was quiet now but as we got back to the larches by the entrance, we noticed a bird high in the top of one of them. It was a Common Crossbill, another smart red male. We got it in the scope and watched it perched there preening for several minutes. Then it flew off into the Arboretum.

Common Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – perched high in the larches as we were leaving

That was a nice way to finish the day. It had been challenging at times in the wind, but we had seen a remarkable amount today considering the conditions.

7th Mar 2019 – Brecks in the Breeze

Another Private Tour down in the Brecks today. It was a lovely bright sunny start, but it clouded over late morning and the drizzle arrived early afternoon. It was very windy too! With the forecast for deteriorating weather during the day, the main priority was to try to see Goshawks, so we set the itinerary accordingly.

It was still a bit early so we headed round to one of the forest rides first thing to see if we could find any singing Woodlarks. The clearing by the parking area was surprisingly quiet, despite the sunshine, as we got out of the van. A couple of male Yellowhammers appeared in the trees and started singing, but we couldn’t hear any Woodlarks.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – singing in the trees this morning

As we walked down the ride, we could hear a Linnet singing in the oaks above the path. There were some Long-tailed Tits flitting around and a Coal Tit singing in the young pine plantation on the other side. A Green Woodpecker laughed somewhere off in the distance. We carried on to the next clearing, but there was no sign of any Woodlarks singing there either. With the first Common Buzzards circling up over the trees, we decided to head back to the van.

Parking in a spot overlooking the forest, we got out and scanned over the tree. There were more Common Buzzards up here, enjoying the strengthening wind, swooping at each other and hanging in the air with their legs dangling. There were Buzzards up pretty much constantly over the next hour or so we were there, with a minimum count of six in the air together.

Buzzard

Common Buzzard – one of at least six up today

It wasn’t long before the first Goshawk appeared. It was a long way off, but it was a good start. They were up pretty regularly too over the trees while we were watching. One Goshawk came up out of the pines much closer to us at one point. It looked like it might come over in our direction, but after hanging in the air for a few seconds it turned and caught the wind. It whisked away over the treetops flashing very pale white below in the sunshine and pale grey above as it turned.

 

Goshawk

Goshawk – one of 2-3 which came up this morning

The strength of the wind possibly made displaying a bit more difficult today. We did have one Goshawk up for some time trying to display. It flew across with its undertail coverts fluffed out and wrapped round its tail, making it look almost white-rumped. Between getting buffeted it did break into a quick burst or two of slow flapping display, with exaggerated deep wingbeats. A bit later we just caught one distant male Goshawk doing a quick rollercoaster display, before disappearing back down behind the pines.

A pair of Woodlarks flew across over our heads and disappeared over the field behind. A little later they flew back over calling, and we watched them drop down into the winter wheat field away to our right, where they promptly disappeared in the crop. There were a couple of Brown Hares in the field too and a pair of Red-legged Partridges.

Having seen several Goshawks, we decided to move on and try our luck elsewhere. On the way, we stopped to watch another pair of Brown Hares in the edge of a field by the road. They were initially standing tall facing each other and we thought they might start boxing, but by the time we had repositioned the van, one was lying down and appeared to be bathing in the dust while the other looked on.

Brown Hares

Brown Hares – one seemed to be dust bathing while the other looked

By the time we arrived at Santon Downham it was already quite late in the morning, but we thought we would have a walk down along the river to see what we could find. It was quite sheltered from the wind in the car park and we were lulled into a false sense of calm. There were very few birds around the garden with the feeders, but there was lots of disturbance here this morning with workmen clearing a hedge from one of the gardens across the road and shredding it very noisily on the verge.

When we got down to the river, we could hear a Grey Wagtail singing and from the start of the path we could see it perched on one of the pipes sticking out from the brickwork under the bridge. Unfortunately it didn’t stay long and flew off upstream. A short distance down along the path, a Kingfisher flew out from the bushes and across the river ahead of us but disappeared off over the other side. A pair of Little Grebes were busily diving in the water.

There were lots of Siskins flying back and forth overhead and one came down to drink by the path. We met someone walking back along the path who told us the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers had been flying around in the trees a bit further up, so we hurried up there to see if we could see them. Unfortunately when we got there we met some other people who told us that the sightings had been much earlier and the birds had not been seen for at least an hour, after they flew off across the river. We stood and listened for a couple of minutes, but it had clouded over now and we it felt much cooler now. We could see the wind hitting the tops of the poplars which were swaying vigorously.

We continued on a little further downstream along the path. The creaking of the trees at one point sounded a little like a woodpecker drumming, but apart from the sound of the wind there was very little singing today. We turned to head back. A Sparrowhawk flew out of the trees and disappeared across the river.

We had not heard the Woodlarks singing, but we went back round via the clearing anyway to see if we could find them. We didn’t, but as we walked along the path by the railway, we could see small flocks of finches flying in from the pines the other side and dropping down through the bare trees above the ditch to drink. As they came back up, they perched in the top of the trees. There were lots of Chaffinches and quite a few Bramblings too, and we got a good look at a smart male Lesser Redpoll through the scope.

A Kestrel was hovering over the clearing, hanging in the wind. A Marsh Tit was singing in the bushes back by the road and we got a quick look at it picking about the moss-covered trunks. A Nuthatch was calling further back in the poplars. Back at the garden by the bridge, now that the noisy shredding was finished there were a few birds starting to return and we stopped to watch a couple of smart male Siskin on the feeders.

It was starting to spit with rain now, but we headed round to Brandon for lunch and thankfully the rain held off long enough so we could use the picnic tables. A hot drink was very welcome too, particularly as one of the group found the water in their thermos flask was now decidedly tepid!!

There was a steady stream of birds coming to the feeders by the picnic tables. As well as lots of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long-tailed Tits, one or two Marsh Tits kept shooting in to grab a seed before dropping down into a small bush below to eat it. A female Brambling appeared in a small tree over by the wall behind us, and then a brighter male flew in and landed in the yew tree right next to us. It clearly wanted to land on the grass below the feeders but was more nervous than the Chaffinches which were coming down there.

Brambling

Brambling – came down to the feeders while we were having lunch

After lunch, it started to drizzle more heavily but we went down for a look at the lake anyway. Once again, there was no sign of any Mandarins but we heard a Firecrest singing again. It was deep in the bushes out of the rain at first and hard to see, but then flew out into the bare birches where we could get a good look at it. A second Firecrest flew out after it and the two of them chased through the branches.

While we were looking up at the Firecrests, we noticed some Redpolls in the birch tree too, feeding on the catkins. Two were small and brown Lesser Redpolls but the third was larger and noticeable paler, whiter below and greyer above, a Mealy Redpoll. Another Brambling was up in the tree with them.

Lynford Arboretum was our destination for the rest of the afternoon. We headed over to the larches first to see if the Crossbills were in there again, but we couldn’t find them today. There were lots of tits feeding in the trees and a Goldcrest flitting around in the lower branches.

Bramblings

Bramblings & Yellowhammer – feeding under the feeders

As we walked up towards the gate, we could see lots of Bramblings feeding out on the main track beyond and in the grass either side. We heard a Hawfinch calling in the trees behind us, but we couldn’t work out where it was before it went quiet. Then as we got to the gate, a cloud of birds flew up from the leaves under the trees. They looked to be mainly Bramblings, at least fifty of them.

We stood at the gate and watched for a while. The birds were very nervous, but gradually a few would start to come back down onto the ground. There were lots of Bramblings, which significantly outnumbered the Chaffinches, and several Yellowhammers. Then they would all spook and fly up into the trees again.

After this had happened a couple of times, we looked along the edge of the trees further back and noticed a Hawfinch on the ground. We got it in the scope, a grey-brown female, and one or two of the group got a look at it before something spooked everything again. Thankfully after a minute or so it dropped back down onto the ground again. This happened 3-4 times, but by the end everyone had got a good look at it. We could see its huge cherry stone-cracking bill.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – too dull for photos today, this one taken here previously

Carrying on down towards the bridge, we had a quick look for the Tawny Owl but couldn’t see it in its usual roosting spot – it was very windy and wet up there today! There were lots of birds coming down to feed on the seed put out on the pillars at the bridge. They were mainly tits, including one or two Marsh Tits which gave us nice close views, plus several Chaffinches and Bramblings.

A streaky female Reed Bunting appeared first, on one of the pillars. Then a male flew in, already getting its black hood, quickly followed by a second male. We watched them feeding round the trees under the feeders.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – one of the two males coming to the seed on the bridge

While we watched all the comings and goings of all the birds at the bridge, we scanned the trees above the pool just beyond. There have been Common Crossbills coming to drink here in recent days, but there was no sign of any here this afternoon. It was very wet now in the rain, and having had good views of a Hawfinch from the gate we opted against walking round the paddocks where which was more exposed to the wind. We decided to call it a day and head back.

When we got to the top of the hill, we heard Crossbills calling and looked over to see two fly out towards us over the Arboretum. They turned over the path and looked to be heading towards one of the isolated deciduous trees on the grassy hillside. We hurried up to where we could see where they had gone and there they were, perched in the top of one of the trees. We got them in the scope, the smart red male Crossbill first, and when it dropped down, we looked over at the grey-green female. It was windy in the tops, and after flying round and landing again a couple of times, the male flew off, followed by the female.

That was a nice way to end the day – despite the at times difficult weather, we had seen most of the Brecks specialities we had hoped to catch up with today. Time to head for home and dry.

6th Mar 2019 – Back to the Brecks

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. It was raining first thing this morning and even though it had stopped by the time we arrived, it was still mostly cloudy, grey and rather cool, with a moderate wind which was rather gusty later in the afternoon.

Our first destination was Santon Downham. We parked at the Forestry Commission car park and, as we walked down towards the river, we stopped to look at the garden with the feeders. There were lots of Bramblings and Siskins in the trees, coming down to the ground and hanging on the feeders. There are several smart males now, with increasingly black heads as the pale fringes wear away.

Bramblings

Bramblings – coming down to the ground under the feeders

As we turned onto the path along the river bank, we heard a Grey Wagtail call and saw it fly off downstream from under the bridge. A short distance further on, we found it again together with a second Grey Wagtail, a pair, feeding on the vegetation around a large branch which had fallen into the river. We could see the blacker throat of the male.

Grey Wagtails

Grey Wagtail – a pair, feeding along the river

We heard a Treecreeper calling and found it feeding low down in the willows on the edge of the meadow. We watched it working its way up the short trunks before flying down and starting up the next one. A little further on, we came across another pair of Treecreepers on the larger alders along the river bank.

There were lots of Siskins along the river, calling as they flew overhead. We looked down at the path just ahead of us and a pair of Siskins were feeding on the edge where lots of alder catkins had fallen. They were very approachable – we might almost have trodden on them had we not seen them first! The male was particularly stunning – a mixture of yellow, green and black.

Siskin

Siskin – a pair were feeding on the path along the river

A Water Rail flew out from the edge of the water down below the bank and zipped across the river before running up the bank into the vegetation. We would see a couple along the river today – it was rather quiet here this morning with few people out possibly due to the early rain.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew across the river and landed in the alders the other side, and another flew along the line of trees to join it. They was no drumming this morning and they weren’t even calling, presumably due to the cooler weather. We had hoped to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers here, but they were keeping quiet too, despite a very brief window of about five minutes where the sun broke through the clouds. A Lesser Redpoll flew over calling and dropped into the birches behind the poplars.

We walked on and kept stopping and listening, but it was rather quiet in the poplars today. Another Great Spotted Woodpecker called and we found it on the side of a dead tree. We turned and walked slowly back. We heard the piping of a Nuthatch and looked up to see it fly across and land on the trunk of a poplar, next to a large hole. The Nuthatch had some mud in its bill and started to paste it round the entrance to the hole, trying to make it smaller.

We took a detour round via a clearing to see if we could find any Woodlarks, but there was no sign of them here today. They have been singing here in recent days, but presumably they had gone off somewhere else to feed. We made our way back to the van.

It was meant to brighten up through the morning, but it was still stubbornly cloudy and grey. We made our way over to an area of high ground to see if we could find any Goshawks. The Common Buzzards were up, which should have given us some encouragement. We counted at least six circling over the trees at the same time at one point. But there was no sign of any Goshawks.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – there were several up despite the cool and grey weather

A Woodlark was singing over the field behind  and a large flock of Fieldfares flew up into the trees. We could hear a Curlew calling too – there are still a dwindling number which breed in the Brecks, so it is always a privilege to hear them here. After eating an early lunch while we stood and scanned, we decided to give up and try our luck elsewhere. We were just packing up, getting back into the van, when a shout of ‘Goshawk’ came from someone standing nearby. We leapt out of the van, but it had gone straight down behind the trees by the time we got out again.

It didn’t feel like it was going to be our lucky day with Goshawks but as we drove up along the road, we looked over the trees to see all the Woodpigeons scattering from the tops. This is often a sign that a Goshawk is in the area so we stopped quickly and got out. A quick scan over the trees revealed one Goshawk up circling and then we noticed there was a pair. We got the scope on them was watched as they broke into a quick burst of display before dropping back into the trees.

Down at Brandon, we stopped for a very welcome cup of tea – a chance to warm up. Afterwards, we walked down to the lake. Surprisingly, there were no Mandarins here today but as we walked slowly round on the path we could hear a Firecrest singing. Looking into the trees we found it fairly low down in the edge of a fir and we had a great view of it as it flitted around in the branches of a neighbouring laurel bush. We could see its boldly marked face pattern, with bright white supercilium.

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing in the trees

One of the birds which was on the target list for today was Great Grey Shrike, but there had been no sign of it in its favoured clearing yesterday. As it has gone missing at times, we decided to try our luck anyway. Walking in along the ride, there was lots of activity around the first clearing we came too. A Yellowhammer was perched in the top of a tree in the middle and a few Linnets and a couple of Robins were feeding around the fence on the corner. Looking further down along the fenceline, we noticed a Stonechat perched on the top wire.

Further along the ride, we could hear lots of finches in the deciduous trees by the path and small groups of Chaffinches, Bramblings and Siskins were constantly flying in and out of the pines opposite. The cones had started to open in the warm weather last week, producing an abundance of freely available seed (no longer requiring the bill of a Crossbill to get it out!). We looked up into the trees to see several small groups of Bramblings, so we got one or two in the scope for a closer look.  Some of the Bramblings were even singing, if you can call it that – more a series of wheezes!

When we got to the clearing at the far end, there was a no sign of the Shrike but we could hear a Woodlark singing quietly. As we walked along the track, the male flew up from the long grass ahead of us and landed on the fence the other side. It perched there singing softly, and we could hear the female calling in response from the ground out in the long grass still. We had a great view of the male Woodlark through the scope. Perched on the wires we could see its very long hind claws.

Woodlark

Woodlark – singing quietly from the fence, showing off its hind claws

Standing on the track in the middle of the clearing we looked over to the pines to see hundreds of finches coming out of the tops. As they flew over, we could hear them calling – Chaffinches, Bramblings and Siskins again. As we looked round at the pines on the other sides of the clearing we could see more and more finches flying up. There must have been well over a thousand birds in the air at one point – amazing to watch! They were all taking advantage of the release of seeds in the pines.

Our final destination for the day was Lynford Arboretum. By the time we got back round there, we were later than we would normally be. The light was starting to go and the wind was picking up. Common Crossbill was the main target here and as we walked into the Arboretum we looked up into the larches to see a red male Crossbill perched right in the top of one of them. We got the scope on it, before it dropped down into the tree below.

We walked over to where the Crossbill had dropped and from the other side of the tree we found a female feeding above our heads. Then we relocated the male too, and we watched through the scope as it clambered around poking its bill into the cones.

Crossbill 1

Common Crossbill – the male, feeding in the larches

Having enjoyed great views of the Crossbills, we continued on to the gate overlooking the feeders. There was nothing here at first, but after a minute or so the Yellowhammers and Bramblings started to drop down out of the trees. By the end, we counted at least five Yellowhammers and 20+ Bramblings feeding down in the leaves.

Continuing on down to the bridge, we looked up in the firs to see the Tawny Owl perched high in the top of one of the trees again, roosting. We got the scope on it and could see most of it, although it seemed to be looking the other way today.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the fir trees again

As we crossed the bridge, we could see a Crossbill perched in the trees above the pool just beyond, a female, grey and greenish. We got the scope on it, before it dropped down to the edge of the water below to drink. A second Crossbill dropped down too. We watched as they drank then they were off back up into the trees.

Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – coming down to drink

While we were watching the Crossbills we noticed a Common Frog on a half-submerged branch in the pool, staring at us. There were lots of tits coming down to the seed put out on the bridge pillars and a Marsh Tit landed just a few feet from us, grabbed a couple of seeds and shot off back into the bushes.

We had left it a bit late by the time we got to the paddocks, particularly given the weather. It was very windy now, blowing round the tops of the pines beyond. We had a quick look to see if there were still any Hawfinches around, but they had seemingly gone in to roost already. Thankfully, they were not a priority today! We did see lots of Redwings perched in the tops of the trees in the paddocks. It was damp and spitting with rain now, so we decided to call it a day.

2nd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Winter Birds, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day tour today, focusing on the Brecks and some of our lingering winter visitors on the coast. It was meant to be the best weather of the weekend this morning, but once again the forecast had changed at the last minute and rather than sunshine we were now faced with grey skies and cool temperatures. Thankfully the light drizzle first thing had dried up by the time we got down to the Brecks and it was still hoped to brighten up later in the day.

The main target for the morning was to be Goshawks, but while we waited for an improvement in the weather, we decided to explore some of the forest clearings. We parked by a ride and as we got out of the van we could hear a Woodlark calling. We looked round and saw it land in one of the bare deciduous trees between where we had parked and the neighbouring clearing.

A second Woodlark then fluttered up from the edge of the clearing, and gave us a quick burst of its rather mournful song. It too landed, in the top of a tree closer to us, and we had a good look at it through binoculars. Unfortunately, by the time we had got all the scopes out of the van, the two Woodlarks had dropped down into the clearing again and disappeared.

Woodlark

Woodlark – landed in one of the trees next to where we parked

Walking down along the path, a Great Tit was singing in the trees and a couple of Siskins flew over calling. We could hear a Redpoll calling some way off, but we couldn’t see where it was. We flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the edge of the clearing, which flew out and landed in the middle. A Song Thrush was singing in the distance, and a little further along we heard a Mistle Thrush singing too.

We made our way round to a another fenced-off clearing, where we managed to get the scope on a Mistle Thrush perched in the top of an isolated bare tree. A Woodlark flew round over the middle, its fluttering, bounding flight suggesting it might be singing but we didn’t hear it and the song normally carries a long way. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was perched high in some tall poplars on the far side of the clearing. A smart male Yellowhammer perched up more obligingly in the top of a bare tree.

There were a few tits in the trees, but nothing was singing today in the cool, grey weather. On the walk back, we stopped to watch a small flock of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and Blue Tits feeding in the tops of some oak trees.

The sky seemed to be brightening a little away to the west, so more in hope than expectation we made our way round to a high point overlooking the forest. It was a good job we did, perfect timing, as we were not even out of the van before we spotted a Goshawk circling up above the trees.

Goshawks

Goshawks – we watched a pair displaying just as we arrived

A second Goshawk appeared with it, and we watched them displaying. The big female below performed a slow flapping display, flying across with exaggerated wingbeats, while the second bird followed behind and above. They flew round for a minute or so, just long enough for everyone to get a good look at them, before they disappeared down over the trees beyond.

There were a few Common Buzzards circling up too now. Three came up together away to our right, another pair was chasing each other further off to the north, and then we looked round to see one circle up from the trees behind us and promptly get mobbed by by six Jackdaws and a Crow!

A pair of Woodlarks flew in over the field behind us, the male singing its mournful song. A flock of about twenty Fieldfares perched up in the trees and from time to time a large mixed flock of Goldfinches and Linnets came up from the field below or a big group of Meadow Pipits came up from the grass. A flock of Lapwings flew over too.

It wasn’t long before another Goshawk came up, flying low across over the trees in front, before dropping down into the wood in the corner, sending crowds of Woodpigeons bursting into the air in panic. Then a juvenile Goshawk started displaying, which promptly brought the big resident female up to display in response.

They disappeared back over the trees, but shortly after we spotted three Goshawks circling together, presumably the juvenile we had just seen, now attracting the attention of the male as well as the female. They spent some time up in the air, at one point with the pair displaying together, the male even giving a quick burst of rollercoaster display.

Given the rather cool and cloudy weather, there was a surprising amount of Goshawk activity over the hour or so we spent watching them today, but we are probably about the peak of the display now. Finally it seemed to go a bit quieter, so we decided to go for a walk in the forest to warm up a bit.

As we walked up another ride, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing and a pair of Mistle Thrushes flew off into the trees. As we passed through a clearing, we saw several groups of finches fly up out of the tops of the pines ahead of us – we could hear Chaffinches, Siskins, Redpolls, and even some Linnets over the tops too. As we had seen yesterday, a lot of the finches are feeding in the pines, taking advantage of the cones which are opening and starting to shed their seeds.

There is a feeding table in the trees here, but there was not as much activity around it as normal this morning. A few Blue Tits and Great Tits flew in and out, stopping just long enough to grab a sunflower seed, but there was a distinct lack of other tits while we stood and watched for a minute or so.

We had hoped to find a Willow Tit here, but there was very little singing in the trees in the cool weather today – just one or two Coal Tits, much fewer than normal. The Willow Tits don’t often visit the feeding tables, but they can sometimes be heard in the trees nearby. As we walked on down the ride, we could hear another Woodlark singing in the distance, but not much else.

It was time for lunch now, so we drove down to Santon Downham to use the facilities at the Forestry Commission car park and then continued round to St Helens for lunch. On our way over, we could see some blue sky approaching from the west and finally the sun came out as we stopped to eat. A couple of Buzzards circled high overhead. A Pied Wagtail was flycatching from the roof of the toilet block. A handful of Chaffinches were feeding under the beeches at the back and a few Siskins and Goldfinches flew in and out of the pines.

After lunch, we walked down to the river. A Grey Wagtail flew off down streak as we got to the bridge, so we walked along a short way to see if we could find it. A Little Grebe was hiding down in the vegetation by the far bank, but there was no sign of the Grey Wagtail, which then flew in behind us and disappeared into the trees on the far side of the river. A Crossbill flew over calling but didn’t stop either.

Our destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. As we approached the gate overlooking the feeders, lots of birds flew up from the ground into the trees. The first to return was a Nuthatch, which kept darting in to grab a seed from the piles spread out in the leaves. There were a few tits coming in and out too.

Next came several Yellowhammers and then the Bramblings started to appear. More and more dropped down into the leaves until we counted at least twenty all on the ground together. There were some smart males, with bright oranges breasts and shoulders, some starting now to get their summer black heads already.

Brambling

Brambling – at least 20 were coming to feed under the trees

Continuing on down towards the bridge, a small crowd had gathered looking up into the trees just before we got to it. They were looking at a Tawny Owl which was roosting high in a fir tree. You had to be in just the right spot to see it, so we had to take it in turns to look through the scope which had been set up there. As the branches swayed in the breeze, you could occasionally see it looking down at us.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the trees by the bridge

The afternoon was already getting on, so we continued on straight to the paddocks next. There had been some Hawfinches in the trees out in the middle earlier but they had apparently been mobile and rather elusive. They had gone rather quiet by the time we arrived. We stood and scanned the trees for a while, also checking the tops of the pines beyond.

The first Hawfinch we spotted was high in a fir tree at the back of the paddocks. Not a particularly good view at this distance, but we all had a look at it through the scope before it dropped down and disappeared. At least it was a start. Then twelve more Hawfinches flew up out of the paddocks. We didn’t see where they came from, possibly from down below the trees somewhere, and they too flew straight back up into the fir trees. We could see four or five of them clambering round among the cones in the top of one of the trees, so we decided to walk quickly round to try to get a closer look.

On our way, we stopped for a better view. There was still one Hawfinch perched high in the tops, but then it too dropped down. However, when we got closer we realised we could still see several of them lower down in the trees. They were very mobile at first, either in the firs of climbing around in an ivy covered deciduous tree, and hard to get onto. Then finally one of the Hawfinches stopped still in the open where we could get a great view of it through the scope. We could see its huge bill and big head, powerful enough to crack open cherry stones!

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – we finally got good views of them in the trees at the back

Having had to chase around after the Hawfinches for a while, we thought we might be a bit late in the day to catch the Common Crossbills back at the bridge. But as we walked back round the paddocks, we heard a Crossbill flying in and it helpfully landed in a bare tree by the path ahead of us. We all managed to get a quick look at it in the scope, a smart red male, before it flew off over the paddocks.

We needn’t have worried, because back at the bridge, another male Common Crossbill was perched in the trees just above the pool. It was probably waiting to pluck up the courage to fly down to drink, and while it perched there we had fantastic scope filling views.

Crossbill 1

Common Crossbill – scope filling views back at the bridge

That Crossbill dropped down, then flew up and across and landed in the trees right above our heads. We got a great view of its distinctive bill, with crossed mandibles designed for prising open fir cones.

Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – landed in the trees right above our head

A female Crossbill flew in and landed in the trees next. When she dropped down to the pool to drink, another male dropped down too. We watched them scooping up water before they flew back up into the trees.

Crossbill 3

Common Crossbill – coming down to drink at the small pool

That was a great way to end our second day down in the Brecks, with fantastic views of one of the other local specialities at close quarters. We made our way back to the van and headed for home again.

1st Mar 2019 – Brecks & Winter Birds, Day 1

Day 1 of a three day tour today, focusing on the Brecks and some of our lingering winter visitors on the coast. It was a rather grey and cloudy day, but dry and fairly still. We decided to try our luck down in the Brecks.

It was not an ideal morning for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers to be out drumming, a bit cool and overcast, and after the long drive down to the Brecks we had missed the early morning peak in activity, but they have been very active displaying in the last week or so we figured it was worth a good go. As we got out of the van, a Greenfinch was trilling and wheezing from the top of the nearby birch trees, and a Grey Wagtail circled round over the car park singing too – a good sign that birds were still displaying despite the cooler weather today.

Walking down the road towards the bridge, we could see lots of finches in the garden of the house with the feeders and a female Brambling perched up nicely in a tree in the hedge.

Brambling

Brambling – perched up in the trees on our way down to the bridge

There were lots of Siskins singing in the alder trees by the river and flying back and forth overhead in little groups. We flushed several birds from the bushes ahead of us as we walked down the path – Brambling, Redwing, Reed Bunting. We heard a Mandarin call in the trees, but couldn’t see it.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming off in the distance, perhaps another good sign, and a second bird then called a bit closer. We could hear a Woodlark singing off in the distance too – one to look for on our way back. For now, we were focused on trying to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.

We stopped at a block of poplars by the river, where we have seen the woodpeckers regularly in recent days. Apparently a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had been seen much earlier further up along the river, but someone else thought they had heard one closer to here, so we decided to try our luck in this spot.

There was no sign of the woodpeckers at first, but they are so small and can disappeared back into the thicker birches at the back or over the river into the alders for long periods. there were lots of finches and tits feeding in the tops of the trees. A Nuthatch was feeding up in the poplars too.

Then we heard the distinctive, sharp ‘kee-kee-kee’ call of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We scanned trees the tops of the poplars and after a couple of minutes we spotted the female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker fly across and land on a small branch high in the canopy. We got it in the scope, and watched as it climbed up one thin stem, looking for food, then flicked across to the next one and did the same thing again.

It tried several different branches, occasionally stopping to pick at the bark, and then when it dropped across to the next one, the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker suddenly appeared next to it. You could just make out its red crown. The female flew and the male chased after it, pursuing it from branch to branch – part of their courtship display. Then the two of them stopped high in the tree, perched on a branch, the female above and the male just below.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers – the male below and female above

We got the scope on the pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers again and while the group stopped to watch them, a quick dash up the footpath was required to shout for some other local birders who had walked further on to check out the block at the far end. By the time we got back, the woodpeckers had disappeared into the trees again, but at least we knew where they were now.

As we stood and scanned the trees for a few minutes, someone picked one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers again, lower down on the trunk of a tree further back, just the female this time. We watched her climbing up through the branches, before she flew across and was lost to view.

Listening carefully, we could hear quiet tapping coming from roughly the area where the female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had flown, but after staring hard at the trees, someone eventually found a Great Spotted Woodpecker, low down on the trunk of an alder tree. We got the scope on it, and could see it was much larger than the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers we had just been watching. It had a block of red on the back of its head, indicating it was a male. The female Great Spotted Woodpecker then appeared on a tree nearby.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – a pair were feeding low in the alders

At least one Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was still close by as we heard it call a couple of times, a bit further back in the trees. After scanning the tops carefully, we eventually found it again when it appeared in the top of another poplar. It was the female again and we watched it feeding once more, right up in the small branches high in the canopy. At one point it stopped, hammering on a small twig for a couple of minutes, clearly having detected some food. We were treated to some really prolonged views this time, about fifteen minutes – a real treat, for this somewhat elusive species – as it moved between the branches of the poplars.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 2

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – the female, feeding high in the poplars

Finally the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew across and disappeared into the denser block of trees over by the river, so we decided to move on. On our way back, we cut across towards the area where we had heard the Woodlark singing earlier.

There were lots of finches in the trees by the reedbed, mainly Chaffinches and Bramblings, but we could hear one or two Redpolls calling too. It appeared they were coming down to drink and bathe in the water below the trees. Once they were finished, they flew back up into the tops before flying across the path and back to the pines beyond. Most of them didn’t sit still for long, but we eventually got the scope on some smart male Bramblings.

As we reached the railway underpass, we heard a Woodlark call and turned to see it drop down on other side of railway. Through the underpass, we quickly found a Woodlark in the short heather and grass in the clearing beyond. We got it in the scope, and as it started to walk across, picking around in the vegetation, we could see another Woodlark next to it, and then a third.

Woodlark 1

Woodlarks – two of the three in the short grass and heather

Two of the Woodlarks then started fighting, fluttering at each other, rising about a foot off the ground before landing again, presumably two males arguing over territory or the female. They parted and seemed to resume feeding, before coming back together several time. Eventually, the pair walked off together one way, over towards the longer grass, the male singing softly. The other male walked away in the other direction, further down the clearing, feeding.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – the pair walked off into the longer grass

While we were watching the Woodlarks, we heard Carrion Crows cawing loudly behind us over the pines and turned to see low of Woodpigeons scattering from the trees. There had to be a Goshawk somewhere to cause such a commotion and after a couple of seconds one appeared above the treeline. A couple of crows chased after it briefly, giving us a good size comparison, and we watched as the Goshawk flew off away from us, turned over the railway, and then headed off over the river.

Goshawks

Goshawk – chased off by a Carrion Crow

There were a few more birds to see as we made our way back to the car. We finally managed to find one of the redpolls in the top of the trees, a smart male Lesser Redpoll with bright pinky-red breast, which we got in the scope. A pair of Marsh Tits appeared on the edge of the pines, and flew over our heads down towards the railway. Back at the bridge, we found a Redwing feeding with Blackbirds in some dense ivy. And we finally got some nice views of Siskins on the feeders.

Redwing

Redwing – feeding in an ivy-covered tree by the bridge

It had been a very productive morning here and when we got back to the van, it was already time for lunch, so we headed over to Brandon to get a hot drink and use the facilities. After lunch, we made our way down to the small lake. There are often some rather tame Mandarins here, and we were not disappointed today. We counted twelve of them, nine very smart males and three females.

They were roosting out on the grass under the trees with the local Mallards. What at first glance appeared to be a Shoveler with them turned out to be a Shoveler x Blue-winged Teal hybrid – its bluish head with a diffuse white crescent marking and dusky patterned white underparts betraying its mixed parentage. The drake Mandarins started displaying, lifting their necks and raising their ornate crests – amazing looking birds!

Mandarin

Mandarin – a stunning drake showing off

As we walked around the lake, we first heard a Goldcrest singing and then a sharper call from the fir trees in the corner alerted us to a Firecrest overhead. We watched it flicking around in the branches on the edge of a tall fir tree, where we could see its bold face pattern with obvious white supercilium and black eyestripe. Eventually it worked its way up and disappeared into the thicker branches towards the top.

There were also a couple of Marsh Tits and a Nuthatch in the trees here. As we made our way back to the car park, we stopped to listen to a Treecreeper call, which then helpfully flew in and landed in one of the trees next to us, where we could see it climbing up the trunk. At least, when it didn’t do its usual trick of disappearing round the far side of the tree!

We made our way further south into the Forest and stopped by one of the rides. As we walked in past a small clearing, we could hear a Woodlark call but we couldn’t see it. Two small birds flew up from the edge of the trees, but rather than the Woodlarks they were two smart male Yellowhammers. They disappeared into the edge of the pines at first, where they were hard to see, but one eventually flew out and landed in a small bare birch tree in the middle of the clearing. After we had all had a good look at it through the scope, the second flew out of the pines too.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – flew out and landed in a small birch in the clearing

Further on along the ride, we could hear loads of finches twittering in the tops of a line of deciduous trees flanking the path. We looked up to see lots of Chaffinches and Bramblings. We got a male Brambling in the scope, and back on we could see the distinctive white stripe down its back. There were Siskins and at least a couple of Lesser Redpoll too.

The finches were flying backwards and forwards across the ride into the pines opposite. They were most likely looking for seeds. In the warmer weather over the last week or so, the pine cones started to open, revealing a bonanza of seeds. Whereas the cones are normally closed, and the seeds can only be accessed by specialist feeders like Crossbills, when they open in the spring the seeds are suddenly freely available to all. Further on along the ride, as if on cue, a Crossbill flew low overhead calling.

As soon as we got in to the clearing at the far end, we could see the Great Grey Shrike out in the middle. Perched up on the top of a small pine sapling, its pale silvery grey and white plumage meant it really stood out. We walked on over to the fence on the edge of the plantation,  from where we got a good view of the Great Grey Shrike through the scope.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – perched on a small pine sapling out in the clearing

For a long time, the Great Grey Shrike helpfully remained where it was, on the same small pine tree, so everyone could get a good look at it. Got Then after a while it started to get more active. It dropped down out of view, then flew across to another tree. It did this several times, working its way slowly back through the plantation, before we lost sight of it.

It was a nice way to end a very successful first day in the Brecks, watching the Great Grey Shrike. On the walk back, several more Crossbills flew over calling, but didn’t seem to stop. They would be very hard to see anyway in the dense mature pine plantations – one for tomorrow. For now, it was time to call it a day and head for home.

9th Feb 2019 – Breezy in the Brecks

Day 2 of a three day long weekend of tours today. It was always going to be very windy again today, but it was supposed to be bright and sunny this morning, according to the forecast. Instead, it was cloudy and grey, not brightening up much until this afternoon, and the wind didn’t drop appreciably until the very end of the day. We spent the day today down in the Brecks.

There has been a Great Grey Shrike at Santon Downham recently, but it has been very erratic in its appearances. We thought we would try our luck and see if we could find it first thing, even though we were a little later than planned getting there this morning. As we walked in along the track, we heard the mournful song of a Woodlark and looked over to see it fluttering up from the ground over by the trees. It came right over our heads, and we could see its short tail and rounded wings, before it disappeared behind us.

Woodlark

Woodlark – flew over our heads singing first thing this morning

There was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike it is usual spot today – it was obviously going to be one of those days it spends elsewhere. We did see our first Marsh Tit of the day, down beside the river, its sneezing call alerting us to its arrival. A couple of Siskins flew over calling.

The surprise of the day was a ringtail Hen Harrier which flew down the valley over the trees, chased by two Carrion Crows. We were saw the crows first, and realised they were mobbing something. Rather than the expected Goshawk, it turned out to be a Hen Harrier, the first time we have ever seen one here. We watched it as it disappeared up and over the taller pines, much better views of the one we had seen distantly yesterday afternoon.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier – chased down the river valley by two Carrion Crows

Almost back to the road, and we could hear lots of finches twittering in the trees the other side of the river. We looked across to see several Bramblings in one of them just across from us. We got them in the scope and could see the brighter orange breast and shoulders, particularly on the male.

We could see more birds over in the gardens by the road that side, so we made our way round over the bridge. We stopped opposite the garden with all the feeders and watched for a while. A steady stream of tits came and went, and a Nuthatch popped in a couple of times. At first, there were just Chaffinches and Goldfinches, but then more Siskins started to arrive and a couple of Bramblings dropped in too. A Lesser Redpoll put in a brief appearance. And a Moorhen came in to pick around on the ground below too.

Siskin & Bramblings

Siskins & Bramblings – under the feeders with a Blackbird

As we walked back to the van, a couple of Bullfinches flew across the road and landed in the bushes nearby. It looked like it was starting to brighten up, so we decided to head over to look for Goshawks.

When we arrived at a good spot overlooking forest, we counted 15 Common Buzzards up in the air together and a Sparrowhawk with them. It seemed like a good sign, but the brighter interval hadn’t lasted and it had already clouded over again. Pretty quickly, the Buzzards dropped back down into the trees and it went rather quiet. It was very windy, and Goshawks like the wind, but it was rather cool and grey now which is less conducive to them putting on a good display.

Eventually, we spotted a very distant Goshawk – a good start. Then a closer one circled up and drifted across the road, but it quickly disappeared behind the trees. We could see all the Woodpigeons flush in the direction it had just headed.

Then a third Goshawk came up over the trees. It didn’t gain much height at first, and then dropped down again out of view, but when it reappeared it started trying to display. At first it was carried quickly downwind, then it turned into the wind and hung in air. We could see its white undertail coverts puffed out as it started to fly with exaggerated, deep wingbeats. It stayed up for some time too, so everyone could get a look at it through the scope.

Otherwise it was quiet here and with nowhere to shelter from the chilly wind, we retreated to the van and headed off to Thetford to look for a coffee. We swung round via the industrial estate first, to see if there were any gulls around the recycling centre, despite it being a Saturday. There were plenty of gulls, but before we could get there something spooked them and the majority flew off. A few eventually dropped back in on one of the other roofs, but there was nothing out of the ordinary with them – a few Black-headed Gulls, a handful of Herring Gulls and one or two Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Gulls

Herring & Black-headed Gulls – we couldn’t find anything exciting with them today

The café on the industrial estate was closed, so we went across the road to try the retail park opposite. We had thought that Macdonalds might serve fast coffee as well as fast food, but it took ages to get served. We ended up spending longer getting coffee than we did looking through the gulls!

We headed back to St Helens for lunch. A couple of Mistle Thrushes were feeding on the grass in the meadows by the road. There were no Bramblings in the car park today, but a large flock did fly over while we were eating, disappeared over the pines the other side of the railway line.

Lynford was our destination for the afternoon. As we walked in along the track, we stopped to look at the feeders. The ground around the small pool under the trees was absolutely coated in Bramblings, at least 50 of them feeding in the leaves. An impressive sight!

Bramblings

Bramblings – at least 50 were on the ground by the feeders

Down at the bridge, someone had put food out on the pillars and several tits kept coming in to grab something to eat. We had great views of Marsh Tits here, down to just a few feet at times, plus Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits. We could hear Nuthatches calling in the trees nearby and several Siskins came down to drink below the bridge, perching in the trees in front of us before they did so.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming to seed put out at the bridge

As we walked on along the edge of the paddocks, we could hear Hawfinches calling. Eventually one or two flew up into the tops of the hornbeams, where we could get them in the scope, but they were very mobile today and didn’t stay long. Possibly it was the blustery wind unsettling them today.

Four Hawfinches flew back and up into the tops of the pines beyond, where they joined some others which were already there. When they flew back down to the paddocks, there were at least seven now. Over the space of half an hour or so, we eventually all got quite good views of them.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – there were at least 7 in the paddocks, but v mobile today

A flock of Redwings was feeding down on the ground under the trees in the paddocks too, and two Mistle Thrushes appeared on the grass as well.

Two raptors appeared over the trees. One was a Common Buzzard and the second was a similar size but a different shape. It was a Goshawk. We watched them circle up together, before the Goshawk drifted towards us, out above the paddocks, before it turned and flew slowly off south. This was a much better view than the ones we had seen this morning and a real bonus to get one here.

Goshawk

Goshawk – a nice bonus, much closer this afternoon

Having enjoyed good views of the Hawfinches, we decided to have a quick look around the lake. A pair of Gadwall and some Greylags and Canada Geese were all additions to the day’s list, but otherwise it was fairly quiet along here today.

There was not much more activity as we walked up through the arboretum. We did hear a couple of Goldcrests singing, and managed to see one flicking about on the edge of a tall fir tree. It did seem like the wind was still keeping everything down.

Past the car park, and we continued on up to the gravel pits. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water in front of the hide and a couple of Cormorants were resting on the platform. There were lots of Tufted Ducks over towards the back, and we just spotted a pair of Goosander before they sailed out of view behind some trees. Not all the group had seen the Goosander, so we set off to walk further round to try a different angle.

On the way round, we had a quick look at the other pit. There were more Tufted Ducks on here and a single drake Goldeneye was with them. With a change of angle, we successfully got everyone on to the Goosander too. By the time we got back to the van, everyone was exhausted so we decided to head for home.

As we drove in to Swaffham, we could see a large gathering of Starlings circling overhead. We decided to stop and watch them for a while. Numbers are hopefully now growing, as they have done for the last couple of years, but there were already several thousand, in a number of different groups which kept merging and splitting apart. It was great to stand and watch the flocks twisting and turning. A nice way to end the day.

Starlings

Starlings – numbers are starting to build again