Tag Archives: Brecks

22nd July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. We were heading down to the Brecks today. The weather has been getting progressively hotter, and today was the warmest of the days we were out. It was bright and sunny in the morning and, although it did cloud over a little in the afternoon, it was still hot and humid.

The Peregrine was back on the church tower again this morning, so once we had picked everyone up we took a short detour round to see it. It had just finished devouring its breakfast and was digesting, perched high on one of the stones protruding from the tower, dozing in the morning sunshine. We got the scope on it and had a fantastic, full-frame view.

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Peregrine – back on the church tower again this morning

It was such a treat to get so close views of a Peregrine, we eventually had to tear ourselves away to head off on the journey down to the Brecks.

Once we got into the north Brecks, we took a detour off the road to look for Stone Curlews. At the end of the breeding season they start to gather in larger flocks in favoured fields, and we hoped to find some today. We stopped to scan the field where they have been recently, but we couldn’t find any there this morning. Then we heard Stone Curlews calling and realised they were in the field the other side of the road.

There is a thick hedge the other side of the road and it is impossible to see into the field, so we walked up to try to find a gap from where we could view. Some of the Stone Curlews must have been close to the hedge, because they took off and flew round, over our heads and across the road to the field we had been scanning. Two swung round and dropped down in view, but the rest, at least another ten, flew out to the middle of the field. The ground slopes away here and they dropped in out of view.

Turning our attention to the two Stone Curlews which had dropped down where we could see them, we trained the scope on them and had a great look at them. We could see their staring yellow iris and short black-tipped yellow bill, very unlike a curlew. They are not members of the curlew family at all, just named for their curlew-like calls, but actually members of the thick-knee family.

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Stone Curlew – two landed in view in the field

One of the Stone Curlews sat down in the stony field and promptly all but disappeared – they are very well camouflaged! While we were watching them, we heard Tree Sparrows calling and looked across to see two land in a large bush out in the middle of the field. Through the scope, we could see the black spots in the middle of their white cheeks.

Our main destination for the day was to be Lakenheath Fen. Unfortunately, we had to take a big diversion to get there today. We hit a big traffic jam at Weeting, where the traffic had backed up trying to get into this weekend’s Weeting Steam Rally. The tailback was right through the village and almost back to the main road! The organisers really need to do something about their chaotic parking arrangements next year – they clearly could not cope with the number of cars arriving. The diversion did at least yield a Mistle Thrush on some wires by the road as we passed.

We eventually arrived at Lakenheath to find they had their own ‘bioblitz’ event on today. While we were arranging access permits, we had a quick look at the various creatures they had already gathered. Unfortunately they had not kept many of the most interesting moths from the moth traps, but we did have a look at the Poplar Hawkmoth and Garden Tiger moths which had been put onto one of the screens round the back of the visitor centre.

One of the group had wandered back towards the car park, and saw the first Bittern of the day. It was a distinctive female with an injured leg which hangs down in flight, known as ‘Gammyleg’. It had disappeared off upstream along the river towards Brandon Fen, away from the reserve.

We needed to limit the amount of walking for the group today, so we were granted a disabled permit and drove out to the disabled parking area by New Fen viewpoint. We walked up to the viewpoint and looked out over the reedbed. Apart from a few Coot, a Moorhen and a couple of Mallard, there was not much to see here today. It was already hot, and activity levels seemed to have dropped.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer – basking on the path

The number of dragonflies and damselflies here is starting to tail off now, but walking out along the bank on the south side of New Fen we still saw a good variety. There were lots of Brown Hawkers hawking over the reeds and an Emperor Dragonfly patrolled up and down the path, past us. One or two Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path and flew off ahead of us. A couple of rather worn Four-spotted Chasers perched on the reeds, but the Ruddy Darters were looking much smarter. Damselflies included Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselfly.

There were a few butterflies too – Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Large White. A Brimstone was feeding on some burdock flowers.

Brimstone

Brimstone – feeding on burdock

One or two Common Whitethroats darted out of the vegetation ahead of us and we saw a couple of Reed Warblers which disappeared into the reeds as we approached. The warden and one of his assistants were out in a boat, collecting things for the ‘bioblitz’, and flushed some Grey Herons from the reeds. When they had all taken to the air, sixteen birds were flying round together in a big flock! Three Little Egrets flew past, upstream along the river and a Green Sandpiper disappeared off that way too.

We hadn’t gone too far before we spotted the first Bittern for the rest of the group. It was rather distant, over the far side of New Fen. It flew across over the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A little further on, we turned to see another Bittern coming round the far corner of the wood back behind us, away in the distance. We watched as it headed steadily towards us.

When it got closer, we could see that it had a dangling leg – it was ‘Gammyleg’, the female Bittern one of the group had seen earlier. It flew in right past us and dropped down into the reeds a short distance ahead of us, giving us great flight views as it did so. It is feeding young at the moment, so had obviously been off along the river collecting food.

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Bittern – the bird known as ‘Gammyleg’ flying in over the reeds

We walked up to where the Bittern had seemed to go down and scanned the reeds, as much as we could see into them, but there was no sign of it. We hadn’t gone much further along here before we looked back to see ‘Gammyleg’ heading off again, back round the far corner of the wood, presumably back to where it had been feeding earlier.

There had been a family of Bitterns seen from Mere Hide in recent weeks, but they have not been seen for a few days. That much was immediately apparent also from the fact that we had no trouble getting into the hide. When the Bitterns were showing, it was impossible to get in, as the place was packed out with photographers taking up occupation of the place from dawn to dusk! We had a quick sit down and scan, before moving on.

The family of Great Crested Grebes is still on one of the pools by the path out to Joist Fen. The four juveniles are now pretty much fully grown – too big to ride on mum or dad’s back now. They still have stripy faces, which distinguishes them from the adults.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – an adult and one of the now fully grown juveniles

A little further on and a Red Kite appeared from beyond West Wood, flying in low over the river before circling up over the trees. As we got out to Joist Fen, we started to see more Marsh Harriers and there were several juveniles out from the viewpoint, indulging in a bit of flying practice over the reeds.

The Hobbys can be harder to find here at this time of year, but we did manage to locate one from the viewpoint. It was very distant though, circling up right at the back of Joist Fen. There wasn’t much else happening out here today though, so after a short rest we set off back. On the way, a Common Buzzard was circling over the corner of West Wood now.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circling up over West Wood

We could hear a Kingfisher calling from the poplars, but we couldn’t see it. It was getting quiet hot now, so we made our way back to the car and headed back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we walked up to the Washland viewpoint. The water on here is evaporating fast now, which at least has the advantage of making it attractive to waders. There were quite a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallow water and a large flock of Lapwing on the mud at the edge. In with the latter, were three Curlew and an Oystercatcher too. A single Common Redshank was wading out in the middle. A few Common Terns were hawking around over the remaining water.

The temperature and timing, in the middle of the afternoon, was not really conducive for looking for passerines, but we headed off to Lynford Arboretum to try our luck. We could hear Siskin calling as we got out of the car and saw one flying off from the top of the larches as we walked down through the arboretum. A Nuthatch was calling from somewhere in the distance, but otherwise it was very quiet in the trees.

We walked down to the bridge and someone had put some seed out on one of the pillars. Several Chaffinches were busy feeding here, but nothing else. A Goldfinch came down to drink in the paddock just beyond. We decided to have a look round the lake.

The Little Grebes here have obviously had a successful breeding season – first we found a very advanced juvenile on its own, then an adult feeding a very well-grown juvenile under the over-hanging trees (we could hear its begging calls first), and finally we came across another pair with three very small juveniles.

Little Grebes

Little Grebes – this pair have three still very small juveniles

There was not much sign of any passerine activity down around the lake either, so we headed on round to the weir to see if we could find one of the Grey Wagtails. The water has largely stopped flowing out of the lake now, beyond a trickle, but as we walked in through the trees a Grey Wagtail flew off from the near bank and landed on an upturned wooden box out in the middle. We watched it bobbing its tail, before it flew back and started to feed along the far edge.

Looking back to the weir, we noticed some ripples in the water at the bottom and looked across to see a small mammal. It appeared to be bathing at first but when we looked more closely, we realised it was feeding, diving under the water. It was a Water Shrew – something we see very rarely. It surfaced with something in its mouth and hopped out onto the rocks, disappearing off to the bank. A few seconds later, it reappeared and ran down into the water again.

We stood and watched the Water Shrew feeding for several minutes – it was fascinating to observe one for an extended period, as normally all you see of them is one disappearing off in the water. We could see its long pointed nose, black fur contrasting with paler silver belly and quite a long tail. Eventually the Water Shrew disappeared into the rocks again and we decided to walk back.

When we got back to the bridge, activity seemed to have picked up a bit. The Chaffinches were still feeding on the seed on the pillar, but as we walked up we heard a Marsh Tit calling immediately behind them. It was flicking around in the trees just beyond, low down, hanging on the branches and picking at the underside of the leaves. A Treecreeper called and appeared from around the back on the trunk of the tree right beside us.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – looking for insects on the underside of the leaves

Walking back up through the middle of the arboretum, we came across a large tit flock. A Nuthatch was with them, in a tall birch tree. Unusually, it was feeding by hovering and trying to pick insects off the leaves – not something you see often. There were also Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits.

The afternoon was getting on now and it was time to be heading back. On the way, we called in briefly at a clearing in the forest. There have been Tree Pipits breeding here, but there was no sign of them this afternoon. A male Yellowhammer appeared briefly in the top of a young oak tree, with food in its bill. Presumably it still has young in the nest nearby.

We had a quick walk to the edge of the clearing. Several birds flew out of the dense bracken and dropped back in further along. A mixed tit flock were feeding in here, possibly finding more food here in the cool, dark conditions, and with them were a couple of Blackcap and one or two Common Whitethroat.

Unfortunately, we were out of time and we had to head for home now. It had been an exciting three days with a great variety of birds and other wildlife, some of the best Norfolk has to offer in summer.

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29th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was our last day and we would be heading down to the Brecks. It was a lovely sunny day, though it was a little hot, particularly out of the light but fresh NE breeze.

With the sun out and the heat haze only likely to increase, we headed straight over to Weeting Heath first. As we walked down towards the West Hide, through the trees, we could hear a Blackcap singing. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the pines too. There were quite a few tits in the bushes and after a couple of Great Tits the next bird to appear in front of us was a Marsh Tit. There were Coal Tits singing in the tops of the pines too.

Just before we got to West Hide, we could hear Spotted Flycatchers calling in the trees, but it sounded like they were along the sunny edge and slightly further down from the hide. There is a family party here, two adults with their fledged first brood young. We scanned the trees, but it looked like we couldn’t see them from here. We decided to keep an ear out in case they moved closer, and in the meanwhile have a look from the hide.

Looking out across the grass, there was already quite a bit of heat haze building. The vegetation is very overgrown at the moment due to a lack of rabbits, which have been hit badly by disease. We scanned the heath but couldn’t see any sign of the Stone Curlews initially. We knew they were out there though – we had just seen them on the CCTV in the visitor centre! Eventually a Stone Curlew appeared out of the thick grass. We got it in the scope, and we could just about make it out.

The Spotted Flycatchers called from somewhere behind the hide, so we headed out for a quick look. One appeared overhead, on a branch, preening, but unfortunately by the time everyone had made it out of the hide it had moved off again and we could hear them calling still along the edge.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – we finally got good views of them in the trees by the hide

Thankfully, this time one of the Spotted Flycatchers had decided to perch on a dead branch in the sunshine where we could see it from the hide access ramp. We even managed to find an angle where we could get the scope on it.

Back in the hide, the Stone Curlew had moved and by changing our viewing angle, we got a much better look at it. It stood stock still, looking around, and after a couple of minutes a second Stone Curlew stood up out of the grass nearby. The first bird walked over to it and settled down where it had been sitting, promptly disappearing completely into the vegetation. Changeover time at the nest! The second Stone Curlew then walked off into the grass.

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Stone Curlews – the pair out in the grass

Having managed some better views of the Stone Curlews now, we had a gentle stroll down to the Woodland Hide at the far end. There were lots of tits on the feeders – Blue Tits and Great Tits, including lots of juveniles. Several came down to bathe too, and were joined by a Coal Tit, which was dwarfed by the Great Tit next to it.

There were lots of young Goldfinches coming and going too, but the stars of the show were the Yellowhammers. One male dropped in under the feeders to feed. Then another came down to the small pool in front of the hide for a bath.

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Yellowhammer – bathing in the pool in front of Woodland Hide

With a busy morning planned, we headed back to the car and on to Lakenheath Fen. With a limit to the amount of walking we could do, we asked at the visitor centre and were kindly granted disabled access to the reserve, which meant that we could drive up to New Fen. With the windows down, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing in the sallows by the track and watched as it flew out, low over the reeds.

We sat on the benches at New Fen viewpoint, to gather our energy for the walk ahead. It was already hot, but at least there was a bit of a breeze. There was not much activity around the pool in front, apart from the families of Coot. A couple of Reed Warblers zipped around the edges of the reeds and a Bearded Tit shot across the water, unfortunately too quickly for anyone to get onto it.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – there were lots of dragonflies out today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies along the bank which runs along the south side of New Fen. We managed to find a Variable Damselfly with the AzureCommon Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies on the corner. A couple of Brown Hawkers zoomed past, and an Emperor patrolled up and down the path. A Scarce Chaser perched up briefly and there were several Ruddy Darters and Black-tailed Skimmers out too.

We saw a few butterflies too – several Meadow Browns, plus one or two Ringlet, Large White, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. A Comma posed nicely in the reeds along the side of the path.

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Comma – posed nicely on the reeds by the path

The season for adult Cuckoos is almost at an end already, and this is the first time in recent weeks we haven’t heard one here. We did manage to see one though, which flew across high over the reeds from West Wood and disappeared off towards the viewpoint.

Finally, a Bittern put in an appearance, a long flight view in from the back of New Fen, straight across towards us, before dropping down into the reeds between us and the viewpoint. There were no other Bittern flights on our walk along the bank here today, despite the fact that they should be busy with feeding flights at the moment.

We stopped to admire a couple of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools in the reeds, an adult and an almost fully-grown stripy-headed juvenile. The adult was trying to doze, but the juvenile was swimming around it, calling quietly. A second adult Great Crested Grebe, presumably the other parent, had swum off a discrete distance and was sleeping in peace!

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Great Crested Grebes – an adult and juvenile, the parent trying to sleep

There has been a family of Bitterns showing well in front of Mere Hide this week, so we thought we would head over there for a sit down and see if we could catch up with them. We could barely get into the hide at first, with a photographer’s tripod right across the doorway! The benches were packed with photographers too, some of which had been there for over six and a half hours, leaving no room for anyone else. Eventually two of them left, making space for another couple who had been waiting ahead of us, and then after waiting a few minutes we managed to sit down too. We had obviously arrived just in time, as several were leaving for lunch!

There was no sign of the Bitterns unfortunately today – they were probably camera shy. Even the Kingfisher just did a brief flyby, zooming past over the reeds at the back, too quick for anyone to get onto. After resting here for a while, we decided to head back for lunch in the cool of the visitor centre.

After lunch, we headed back towards the Forest. It was hot and with limited scope for walking any distance now, we decided not to head to our usual clearing in the trees for Tree Pipit. Instead, we had a drive round through farmland first, checking out some fields.

We stopped by a recently sown maize strip. As we got out of the car, we could see an Oystercatcher standing in the middle. Scanning with binoculars, we then spotted two Stone Curlews along the far edge. We got the scope on them and looked again and realised there was another Stone Curlew further along the edge, and two more hiding in the grass just beyond, five in total. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but the views were a bit better than we had enjoyed at Weeting earlier and we could make out a bit more detail.

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Stone Curlews – two of the five on a recently sown maize strip

As we drove on, we noticed a dove perched on the wires beside the road. Typically, we had a car right behind us, so we had to find somewhere to pull over and wait for them to pass. As we got out of the car we could see that it was a Turtle Dove, the first we have seen here in recent years. Unfortunately it flew before we could get the scope out and disappeared out into the field the other side of the road.

We headed round to another clearing in the Forest, which wouldn’t be as far to walk. There had been Tree Pipits here a few weeks ago, but we weren’t sure what they would be up to in the heat of the afternoon. It all looked pretty quiet as we got out of the car, apart from a Yellowhammer singing in one of the trees beside the path and a group of juvenile Swallows hawking for insects from the wires across the clearing.

As we walked down along the path, there were lots of butterflies fluttering around the vegetation either side, mainly Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Skippers. A Large Skipper perched nicely in the sun.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – perched nicely in the sun

The combination of the walk and the afternoon sun was proving too much, so we turned back. We were almost back to the car when we noticed a small bird in one of the trees by the path, perched on a dead branch. It was a Tree Pipit. It stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope, then took off and flew out into the middle of the clearing.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – in a tree by the path, just as we got back to the car

That was a nice way to end the day, so we set off for home. We had enjoyed a very good three days out birdwatching and seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife, some of the best that Norfolk has to offer in summer.

24th June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. It was glorious sunny weather, blue skies and hot! We headed down to the Brecks for the day.

It was already warming up nicely when we got down to the Brecks, so we headed straight over to Weeting Heath. We wanted to try to catch up with the Stone Curlews before the heat haze got too bad, which it often can be here in the middle of the day, when the birds can also be less active. The grass is very long too, as a consequence of a sharp decline in the rabbit population. We were therefore very pleased when we opened the flaps and saw a Stone Curlew out in the long grass.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – in the long grass at Weeting

The Stone Curlew was busy feeding, walking quickly, stopping, picking at the ground. We had a good look at it through the scopes, but it disappeared into the long grass after a couple of minutes.

A (Common) Curlew flew in from behind us, giving its beautiful bubbling song as it glided down and landed on the grass close to where the Stone Curlew had been. We were watching the Curlew when the Stone Curlew appeared out of the longer grass again. It eventually walked across and we had the two species side by side.

The Stone Curlew then walked off and stood where we could get a good look at it. The next thing we knew, a second Stone Curlew stood up right beside it, from where it had been hidden in the grass. It was obviously changeover time at the nest. The first Stone Curlew then settled down into the grass and the second bird walked off a short distance, where it stood preening for a few minutes.

When the second Stone Curlew walked off into the longer grass to feed, we took that as our cue to move on. There has been a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees by the hide here, but we couldn’t find them when we emerged. They have already fledged their first brood, so they have become more mobile. We decided to walk down to the hide at the west end to look at the feeders and see if we could find them on the way.

We heard a couple of Coal Tits high in the pines on the walk, and had a brief view of a Nuthatch up in the canopy of the trees. A Goldcrest showed a little better and a Treecreeper was calling too. There were plenty of birds around the feeders – lots of young Blue Tits and Great Tits. A couple of Yellowhammers were feeding on the ground below and one came in for a drink at the small pool. Another Nuthatch made a quick ‘smash and grab’ visit too.

On the walk back, as we got to the junction with the path to West Hide, we could hear the Spotted Flycatchers calling. We eventually had nice views of one or two of them when they perched where we could see them, although they could be hard to see up in the trees.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – eventually perched up nicely

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. As we came out of the visitor centre, a couple of photographers had their lenses fixed on one of the sallows by the pool just outside. A Kingfisher was perched up in the outside of the bush, half hidden in the leaves. It dived down into the pool and then flew up again back into the leaves, where we could just see it.

Thankfully, the next time the Kingfisher dropped, it flew back up and landed on one of the branches down in the water, right out in the open, where we could get a much better look at it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – fishing on the pool behind the visitor centre

As we walked out along the main path into the reserve, we could hear Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing. A Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in the top of a small sallow in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes further over. There were a few Common Whitethroats flitting around in the vegetation too.

When we got to New Fen Viewpoint, a flock of Gadwall flew over. We were just looking in the field guide to show why they were identifiable as Gadwall, when a Bittern was called by some of the other people there, flying up from the reeds. It was only a brief sighting, but we were too busy looking in the book! Not to worry, we should hopefully get another chance.

Two Hobbys were circling high over West Wood, way off in the distance, and a Marsh Harrier circled up to join them. An adult and an almost fully grown but still stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe were out on the pool below.

As we walked along the bank on the south side of New Fen, there were loads of dragonflies in the vegetation either side. We saw lots of Ruddy Darters and several Brown Hawkers out to day, as well as Four-spotted Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers. There were one or two Banded Demoiselles along the path too. Looking carefully through all the Azure Damselflies we found a few Variable Damselflies and Red-eyed Damseflies in with them.

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle – there were lots of dragonflies & damselflies out today

About half way along the bank, a couple ahead of us called to say they had found a Bittern. We walked up to them and they pointed it out, standing on the edge of the reeds. We had a great look at it through the scope. While we were watching it, a second Bittern flew back over the reeds. A Green Woodpecker flew past too.

The first Bittern stood on the edge of the reeds in the sun, preening and looking round, then walked a short distance and started to look for food, leaning over with its bill down close to the water. It snapped at something a couple of times, possibly insects on the water surface, before eventually walking back into the reeds.

Bittern

Bittern – standing on the edge of the reeds at New Fen

Now the Bittern floodgates opened! A little further down the path, we looked up along one of the channels cut through the reeds and saw another Bittern flying down low over the water, before turning and disappearing into the reeds on one side. As we got up almost to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted yet another one, flying in over the reeds. It appeared to drop down in front of the hide, so we hurried round.

Before we got to the hide, we scanned the edge of the reeds from the boardwalk and noticed some movement. There were two Bitterns. They started walking quickly along through some short sparse reeds on the edge – it almost looked like it was a race at one point! They made it to a patch of thicker reed and disappeared in, but then came back out onto the edge and stood half hidden. They looked slightly small and it turned out they were recent fledglings, not quite yet fully grown.

Bitterns

Bittern – two recent fledglings on the edge of the reeds

Having had such great views of the Bitterns from the boardwalk, we didn’t go into the hide, but headed on towards Joist Fen. We continue to scan over the reeds and we were about half way there when we spotted a bird flying beyond the Joist Fen viewpoint. It was yet another Bittern. It came in past the viewpoint, and continued on right past us and eventually landed in the reeds somewhere near Mere Hide. A very long feeding flight!

A Cuckoo was singing from somewhere deep in West Wood,  but we couldn’t see it. The family of Great Crested Grebes are still on one of the pools by the path, but the four young ones are well grown now. It looked like one of them was still keen to try to ride on its parent’s back though!

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the juveniles are well grown now

Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we stopped for a rest. There did not appear to be too much happening, but it was nice to have a sit down. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes close by – nice to hear them now, as their numbers have dropped sharply in East Anglia after the cold winter. There were a couple of Marsh Harriers circling in the distance too. Then yet another Bittern flew across over the reeds.

After resting out legs, we got up to walk back. As we did so, a Cuckoo flew past over the reeds and disappeared out towards the paddocks. We had heard a couple of Bearded Tits on the walk out, but they can be very hard to see here. As we walked along the path, we heard one call and turned to see a male fly up out of the reeds close in front of us and disappear off behind us.

Along the main path by New Fen, we looked up to see a Kestrel circling. Scanning the sky, we found a Hobby too, much further over and very high up. It gradually drifted our way and dropped a little lower and we watched it catching insects high overhead.

Hobby

Hobby – catching insects high overhead

There was one last addition to the day’s list here, when we were most of the way back. We finally found a couple of male Scarce Chaser dragonflies, perched up on the reeds by the path. Then it was back to the visitor centre for a rather later then planned lunch and another welcome rest after the long walk in the sun.

After lunch, we headed back into the Forest. We parked by a ride and walked into the pines. There were lots of butterflies buzzing around the Viper’s Bugloss, a mixture of Small and Essex Skippers. We had a closer look at them and even managed to see the key difference in the colour of the underside of their antennae!

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – with a pale underside to the antennae

It was very quiet when we got out to the clearing at the far end, but then it was the middle of the afternoon on the hottest day of the year so far! We found a male Yellowhammer perched up on one of the stump rows and, just behind it, a Stonechat was flycatching, but dropping back down out of view.

There has been a pair of Common Redstarts here and they have been feeding their recently fledged young in the last few days, so we went round to try to see them. It was all quiet where they have been though. We carried on a little further and noticed a bird fly up from the ground in the shade under a large oak tree. It headed straight up into the canopy, where we just managed to get a glimpse of a red tail. It was one of the Redstarts. Unfortunately it then stopped moving somewhere high in the canopy. We walked on a short way, and when we came back it did exactly the same thing again!

It was obviously too hot for much activity now. We walked back to the edge of the clearing, where all was very quiet. As we walked along the path though, we caught a distant snippet of a bird sub-singing. It sounded like a Tree Pipit, but as we stepped round the trees we noticed a Woodlark perched in the top of a young pine. A second Woodlark flew up from the ground at out feet and perched nearby where we could get a good look at it.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of the pair in the clearing

Then the Tree Pipit flew up from right in front of us and landed in another small fir tree. It was carrying food in its bill so presumably has young to feed nearby. As we looked more closely we could see it was fitted with a combination of colour rings. It was an old friend, an individual we saw in pretty much exactly the same place last year. It seems to be very successful here as, according to the ringer, it was already feeding its second brood!

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – a colour-ringed individual we have seen here the last couple of years

It was time to start heading back now. It had been a very successful three days, with a great selection of our breeding birds, as well as insects and other wildlife.

6th June 2018 – Heath, Fen & Forest

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. It was a cloudy start but brightened up through the morning to blue skies and a lovely warm afternoon. A great day to be out birding.

With the risk of heat haze if the sun came out, we went straight to Weeting Heath this morning to see the Stone Curlews. As we got out of the car, a Treecreeper was singing in the car park. We made our way straight down to the West Hide where, as soon as we opened the flaps, we could see our first Stone Curlew.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of several on show this morning

The grass here is very long at the moment – the rabbit population has dropped precipitously in recent years, which is proving to be a major issue. Despite this, we had good views of one adult Stone Curlew walking around in a more open patch not far in front of the hide.

A careful scan revealed three more Stone Curlews, hiding in the grass away to the right. As they moved across to where the grass isn’t so thick, we could see they were a family, two adults and a well grown juvenile. It has been a much better year in 2018 so far at Weeting, with two pairs currently raising three youngsters. We couldn’t see the second pair today – they seem to have disappeared off into the long grass at the moment!

A regular Eurasian Curlew was out in the grass too, flashing its long down-curved bill – and looking very different from its namesakes. The two are unrelated – Stone Curlew is named just for its call, which sounds rather like a Curlew, but it is actually a member of the Thick-knee family. Eurasian Thick-knee doesn’t have such a good ring to it!

Having enjoyed great views of the Stone Curlews, we decided to turn our attention to the trees. We had a look for the Spotted Flycatchers just outside the hide but couldn’t find them here today. As we walked up to the small hide overlooking the feeders at the west end, we could hear a Yellowhammer and a Mistle Thrush, both singing across the road.

There was a lot of activity on the feeders. Blue Tits and Great Tits were coming and going and a family of Marsh Tits was perched in the bushes just behind. A Nuthatch made several repeat visits to the seeds too. Several Goldfinches dropped into bathe in the pool in front of the hide.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in regularly to the feeders

A quick walk back and down to the East Hide failed to reveal any Spotted Flycatchers that end either, though we did see a pair of Coal Tits high in the pines and a family of Long-tailed Tits which flitted quickly through the bushes. The Treecreeper finally gave itself up in the top of one of the pines too.

With a busy morning planned, we headed over to Lakenheath Fen next. A Brown Argus in front of the Visitor Centre was a nice start to our butterfly list. A male Reed Bunting came in to the table below the feeders the other side, where a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds by the pool, the first of many we would hear today. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the sallows on the walk out, along with Blackcap and a Cetti’s Warbler which shouted at us from the reeds.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path. They were mostly Azure Damselflies and a few Blue-tailed Damselflies, but as we walked along, we kept a close eye to see if we could find any others. It didn’t take too long before we found a Variable Damselfly – when it settled, we could see its darker thorax with broken antehumeral stripes, and the distinctive black ‘goblet’ pattern on the segments at the base of its abdomen. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling in front of the trees here too.

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – among the many Azure Damselflies by the path

Continuing on to New Fen Viewpoint, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the poplars. Rather than linger at the viewpoint itself, where there didn’t seem to be much happening at that moment, we took the path along the bank on the south side.

There were more dragonflies along here and one of the first we found was a smart male Scarce Chaser resting on a reed leaf. We had a good look at it – as well as the blue abdomen with a black tip, we could see the black bases to the wings. There were lots of Four-spotted Chasers along here too and several Red-eyed Damselflies.

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser – a male resting on a reed leaf

It wasn’t only insects on view along here though. A little further on, we spotted a Hobby flying quick and low, skimming the tops of the reeds. We stopped to watch it and it put on an impressive show, hawking back and forth in front of us, swooping low over the pools catching dragonflies, climbing up and then eating them on the wing.

The sun was starting to come out now and the Hobby gradually started to gain height. A second Hobby appeared even higher above it. However, rather than drift off, the first Hobby then came straight towards us and started to hunt higher over the reeds just in front of us, almost over our heads at times. Fantastic stuff!

Hobby

Hobby – hawking for insects almost over our heads

We were so transfixed by the Hobby, we almost missed a Bittern which flew across the channel in front of us. Thankfully we got a quick sight of it, before it then crashed into the reeds the other side and disappeared in. A Marsh Harrier drifted in over the reeds and dropped down over the back. There were Bearded Tits calling here too, but they remained stubbornly hidden in the reeds out of view.

Continuing on, we stopped to listen to two Cuckoos singing in West Wood. They were singing against each other and provided us with a great stereo performance. One was moving around in the poplars in front of us and eventually came closer to the near edge where we had a quick view of it flying between trees. A Black-tailed Skimmer was basking on the track.

We had a quick look in at Mere Hide, but it was rather full with photographers camped out hoping to get a look at one of the Bitterns which has been feeding here periodically. There was no sign of it, so we moved on. The pair of Great Crested Grebes with four stripy-headed juveniles was still on one of the pools by the path, though only one of the youngsters wanted a ride on its parent’s back this morning. One of the adults was busy finding food – catching damselflies above the water surface, to feed to its young.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the pair with four stripy-headed juveniles

Joist Fen Viewpoint provided a welcome rest for a few minutes. There were lots of Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings in the reeds here, appropriately enough! Several Marsh Harriers circled up, mostly some way over but a female drifted towards us and across the reeds in front. Three more Hobbys were feeding much higher now, off in the distance.

It was already one o’clock, so we needed to be getting back for lunch. Rather than just follow the main path, we decided to walk back along the bank on the south side of New Fen, hoping for a Kingfisher. As we got up onto the bank, someone there was just pointing out a bird to another couple and as we walked up they informed us that there was a Bittern showing.

We looked across to see the Bittern perched with its neck stretched up, half way up the reeds over below the edge of West Wood, trying to look just like a bunch of reeds. It stayed there for several minutes, giving us a chance to get a great look at it through the scope. The pale blue skin at the base of its bill shone in the sun.

Bittern

Bittern – perched up in the reeds at New Fen

The Bittern had a preen and a shake, and then set off over the reeds, flying right across to the other side before dropping back down into the reeds. We continued on our way back. A Kingfisher called and appeared briefly in a small tree out in the reeds, but flew up out of view before we could all get a look at it.

With the stop for the Bittern, we were rather later back than planned. We had to pop in to Brandon to pick up some food, and after battling with the traffic it was time for a rather late lunch. Santon Downham churchyard provided a convenient location close by to eat. A pair of Grey Wagtails were collecting insects on the roof of the church, presumably to take off to their hungry brood somewhere, presumably down at the river, and a couple Goldcrests were singing in the trees.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – a pair were collecting insects on the church roof

After lunch, we set off to explore the Forest. Our first stop was rather quiet – we had a short walk along a ride to a clearing where Woodlarks breed, but it was hot and sunny now and everything seemed to be in hiding!

At our next stop, we were more successful. We walked along the edge of an army firing range – large swathes of the Brecks are used for battle training. Again, it seemed rather quiet at first. That was, until the heavy artillery started up just the other side of the fence! There were repeated volleys – Boom! Boom! – as the big guns fired and the air reverberated around us. Not great for trying to find birds you might think, but the Woodlarks were as surprised as we were and took off from the trees just the other side of the fence.

The artillery went on for ages and the Woodlarks wouldn’t settle again. They kept flying round, calling. Every time they landed, they were spooked by the next volley. The only benefit was that, eventually, they flew and landed on the fence in front of us. They stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at them in the scope, and then they were off again.

We decided to retreat. There were lots of butterflies in the grass along the path as we walked back, mostly Small Heath which fluttered up ahead of us. Another Brown Argus perched briefly on a flower to feed.

Small Heath

Small Heath – there were lots in the grass today

Even though it was still hot and sunny and in the mid afternoon lull, we decided to try our luck with a brief visit to Lynford Arboretum. We heard a couple of Siskins flying round calling over the pines as we walked in and a Stock Dove was whooping from the trees, but there was nothing of note in the garden of the cottages today and it was fairly quiet as we walked down towards the bridge.

Down at the bottom of the hill, some movement in the trees caught our attention and we turned to see a small bird swoop out from a branch, loop round and then land back on the branch again. It was a Spotted Flycatcher. We stopped to watch it for a while, hunting for insects from the trees in a small clearing on the edge of the wood.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – hunting for insects on the edge of the trees

While we were watching the Spotted Flycatcher, we caught a glimpse of a small bird flying up into the fir trees opposite. We walked up and found it feeding in one of the outer branches, a Goldcrest. A quick look round the lake produced lots of Common Blue Damselflies, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a Little Grebe hiding in the reeds, as well as the regular other wildfowl.

There was still time for one last stop before we were due to finish, so we headed back into the Forest. We parked up by a ride and walked in to a clearing. The Tree Pipit kept us waiting a tantalising couple of minutes before it gave in and started singing. It landed on the wires in its usual place and sang from there for a while – we had a great view of it through the scope here.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the wires again

A second Tree Pipit started singing behind us, from a young oak just the other side of the path. The two of them matched each other song for song for a while, until the first launched itself into the air and fluttered up singing, before parachuting down into the grass just across the path directly opposite the oak tree. The second Tree Pipit responded – not a full on song flight, but fluttered down singing to the ground nearby.

Unfortunately, given the height of the vegetation, we couldn’t see what went down, but after a couple of minutes the first Tree Pipit fluttered up singing again and parachuted back down onto the wires where it had been before. Territorial boundaries re-established? A smart male Yellowhammer was singing from the edge of the trees too.

It was a lovely way to end the day, listening to the Tree Pipits singing in the clearing. It had been another great day in the Brecks, so we set off for home.

3rd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours, our last day, and we would be heading down to the Brecks today. It was meant to be brighter with sunny intervals today, after the overnight mist burnt back to the coast, and it was eventually although it took a bit longer than forecast.

Our first stop was at Weeting Heath and we made our way straight out to the West Hide. As soon as we opened the flaps, we could see there were plenty of Stone Curlews on view – it was more a questions of how many! The closest birds were a pair with two well-grown juveniles. We had a good look at them through the scope. We could see their large eyes with a prominent yellow iris. The juvenile Stone Curlews were still slightly smaller than the adults and with less well-marked face patterns and wing bars.

Further over were four more adult Stone Curlews, presumably non-breeding birds, at least so far. Two of the birds appeared to be trying to pair up, bowing in display to each other. This had attracted the attention of the other two, who stood tall nearby. There was lots of running round and some calling too.

Stone Curlews

Stone Curlew – a pair bowing to each other while a third looks on

While we were watching the Stone Curlews, a Eurasian Curlew flew in calling and landed out on the grass with them. Stone Curlews are not really related to Curlews at all – just that their calls sound rather similar, which is why they got their name. They look very different too. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were lost in the long grass, but helpfully flew across in front of the hide.

As we came out of the hide, we noticed some movement high in the pines. A pair of Spotted Flycatchers were flying round in the trees, catching insects. They were high up and hard to follow at times. After a while they disappeared back into the pines and we lost track of them. There were also a couple of Coal Tits in the trees here, and we could hear a Treecreeper singing. We had a busy morning planned, so we couldn’t hang around here too long today.

We made our way on to Lakenheath Fen nest, which we wanted to explore before lunch. As we came out of the Visitor Centre, a Kingfisher flew from the reeds, out of sight just below the boardwalk. It headed off back across pool, a streak of electric blue catching the light. It landed briefly on the post at the back and appeared to have something in its bill. Unfortunately, it didn’t hang around and was straight off back over the reeds beyond.

As we walked out along the path, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It flew out of the poplars ahead of us and out over the railway, the first of several we would see here today. There were Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds beside the path. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us too. And a Common Whitethroat and several Blackcaps were singing in the trees.

From New Fen Viewpoint, we could see an adult Great Crested Grebe. A large stripy-headed juvenile swam out to join it, pestering it for food or a lift, with little success. There was not much else of note visible though, so after rest, we set off again.

As we walked along the bank, scanning the pools and the reeds, our first Bittern of the day flew up over the reeds in front of us. It flew across past us, before eventually dropping back down into the reeds behind us. A great start! We could hear another male Cuckoo singing further along and when we got there, we found it flying in and out of the sallows.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flying in and out of the bushes, singing

The male Cuckoo perched up nicely a couple of times, and seemed to be focusing its attention on one large sallow bush. Then we realised it was chasing a female Cuckoo which was hiding in there. The two of them emerged and chased each other in and out a couple of times, perched up briefly, and then headed away over the reeds.

It was starting to warm up, even if it was still cloudy. There were good numbers of dragonflies out now – lots of Four-spotted Chasers in the reeds by the path, occasionally flying up before returning to their favoured perch. In amongst them we found a couple of female Scarce Chasers too, lacking the four extra spots on their wings. Several Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path, and kept flying off ahead of us before resettling further along. We saw a couple of Hairy Dragonflys and an Emperor here as well.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – there were lots of them in the reeds today

There was a nice selection of damselflies here too. A smart male Banded Demoiselle fluttered across the reeds in front of us. There were lots of Azure Damselflies in the vegetation by the path and looking carefully through a small selection of them we managed to find a Variable Damselfly with them. The vegetation also held plenty of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a few Red-eyed Damselflies too.

As we got to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted a Hobby coming fast and low over the reeds. It was after the dragonflies too. We watched it swooping back and forth, occasionally swooping up or skimming low just over the reeds, dropping down over the Mere Hide pool. We got a great look at it as it passed right in front of us a couple of times. Then it flew up and disappeared into the West Wood.

Hobby

Hobby – chasing dragonflies over the reeds in front of us

Continuing on up the path, we stopped to watch another pair of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools. They had four juveniles, quite a bit smaller than the one we had seen earlier. The youngsters were chasing around after the adults, trying to hitch a ride. One adult Great Crested Grebe kept diving to get away from them, but the other eventually stopped preening and relented.

The juvenile Great Crested Grebes climbed up onto the adult’s back. It appeared there was only room for three though – we could see their heads poking out from under its wings, but the fourth juvenile swam round beside them.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – three of the juveniles hitched a ride, but no room for the fourth

It was all action here, we didn’t know where to look. While we were watching the grebes, another Bittern flew towards us the other side of the path. We turned in good time to see it coming and watched as it passed by us just a short distance away. We had a great view of it, like a brown speckled heron, with a fatter neck.

From the photos we could see the Bittern was a ringed bird, probably the same one we also saw here in pretty much the same spot last year.

Bittern

Bittern – we had a great view as it flew right past us

There was a dapper male Reed Bunting singing on the other side of path, perched up on the top of a reed stem demanding our attention too. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from all the birds here and we continued on up to the Joist Fen Viewpoint.

From here, we could see several Marsh Harriers circling up over the reeds, and a couple of them perched in the sallows out in the middle. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bush just beside us. We were just discussing how we would only see it if it flew out, when it did just that, flying right across in front of us to the elders the other side.

After a rest, we set off to walk back. We called in at Mere Hide on the way. There had been a Bittern on the edge of the pool earlier, but it had gone back into the reeds now. However, while we were there another Bittern flew across over the reeds in front of us and yet another one was booming in the reeds out to the left of the hide. Bitterns everywhere! There have been 10 booming males here this year, a record for the reserve. Not bad considering there were just 11 in the whole of the UK in 1997, at their lowest point.

It was just a quick stop in Mere Hide, as we had to get back for an already late lunch. The sun was out now, and it was getting quite hot as we walked back. It was nice and cool in the Visitor Centre, so we ate in there today. Most of the group could not resist the cold drinks from the fridge and the ice cream went down very well too!

After lunch, we made a quick visit to Lynford Arboretum. We were hoping for a few woodland birds to add to the list, but it was rather quiet here in the heat of the afternoon. We stopped by the gates to look into the walled garden and hear a Nuthatch calling. We looked up to see it in the pines at the back. It was carrying some food in its bill, and then dropped down to a nestbox on the wall, where a nestling’s head popped out to be fed.

Shortly after we had watched the young Nuthatch being fed, a Kestrel swooped low across the grass in front of us pursued by a couple of Swallows. It crashed onto the front of the nestbox and then sat on the top. It looked like it might have been after the Nuthatch nestlings, although without the adult there they were presumably not at the hole on the front. After sitting on the top of the box for a couple of minutes, the Kestrel flew off again, chased by the Swallows once more.

Kestrel

Kestrel – was it after the Nuthatch nestlings in the box below?

While we were watching all the action in the garden, we heard a Grey Wagtail flying over behind us. When we got back onto the path, it was standing in the middle just round the corner, back towards the road. It stood there for a few seconds preening, before flying off.

As we made our way down to the lake, we could hear several Siskins flying round high above the trees. A Goldcrest was calling in the firs down at the bottom of the hill and we had a nice view of it when it came out onto the branches on the edge. Another Nuthatch flew across the path and up into the trees where we could hear it piping.

Round on the lakeside path, the pair of Mute Swans had brought their two cygnets out of the water and the male would not let us pass. Eventually, he gave in to the pressure of us trying to walk on and led them back into the lake. A Little Grebe laughed from out on the water, and we saw one surface out on the lake among the lily pads. The walk back through the Arboretum was uneventful, apart from a Common Lizard which was basking on the path and scuttled off ahead of us.

There was one last target for the day – Tree Pipit. So we drove back into the forest and parked by the start of a ride. The walk in and round the first clearing was quiet, apart from a Garden Warbler singing from bushes. There were more butterflies out now in the sunshine – as well as several whites, we saw a couple of Orange Tips, one or two Painted Ladys, a few Common Blues and a Large Skipper.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – there were lots more butterflies out this afternoon

We walked on through the trees to a second clearing, and could immediately hear a Tree Pipit singing towards the back. As we made our way round to the other side we could see it song flighting, towering up singing and then parachuting back down to into the top of one of the trees. After one flight, the Tree Pipit landed on some wires, and we got it in the scope. We had a great view of it, even noting the strongly curved hind claw.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing and song-flighting from the wires over a clearing

Another Tree Pipit started singing away in the distance. Then one of the group noticed a small bird flying across the clearing behind us, which landed on the top of a tall tree stump out in the middle. We got it in the scope and could see it was a Woodlark. When they aren’t singing they can be very hard to find here, so this was a very nice bonus. It perched for a while before dropping down into the tall grass below.

It was now time to start walking back. On the way, a small flash of colour sped past us, not right for any butterfly. It landed down in the grass briefly and we could see it was a Cream-spot Tiger moth, its black upperwings marked with bold creamy splodges. Then it was off again – revealing its bright red abdomen and yellow underwings. They are not a common moth and in Norfolk are found mainly in the Brecks.

It had been a very successful last stop, a great way to finish off the three days. We had seen some really good birds and some other interesting wildlife too.

1st April 2018 – Easter Birding, Day 2

Day 2 of a two day Spring Tour over the Easter weekend. After more rain overnight, it was meant to stop in the early hours and then brighten up this morning. It was a bit slow coming, remaining stubbornly cold, grey and misty until midday, but at least it was mostly dry, just spitting with rain from time to time. Then the sun came out early afternoon, which made for a very welcome change, and we were quick to capitalise on it!

Our first destination for the morning was Santon Downham. As we walked down to the bridge from the Forestry Commission car park, we could hear Bramblings wheezing in the trees and we managed to find a couple around the garden with the feeders.

Brambling

Brambling – in the trees by the garden with the feeders again

 

We took the new path down beside the river. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from somewhere in the distance and a Nuthatch was piping high in the poplars. A Grey Wagtail was singing quietly around one of the tree trunks in the middle of the water. We watched as it fed around the piles of vegetation washed up around the branches, before it flew off back towards the bridge.

Their squeaky calls announced the arrival of a pair of Mandarin Ducks, which flew towards us along the river. They gained height and landed in the branches of the poplar tree just opposite us, on the other bank. There seems to be a very good number of them along the river this year and we were never far away from a pair all morning, mostly to be heard flying up and down the river and through the trees.

Mandarin

Mandarin Duck – one of several we saw along the river this morning

 

Carrying on down the path, we could hear Redwings chattering and singing in the alders across the river and looked across to see lots of them perched in the tops of the trees. A female Siskin was trying to come down to the ditch beside the path to drink or bathe, and kept flying further along ahead of us, until we got to the corner where it stopped and we could have a closer look at it. There were several Long-tailed Tits along here too and we could hear a couple of Marsh Tits singing from the other side.

Our real target here was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but as we got to one of their favoured areas all seemed very quiet. We stood and listened for a while, as we scanned the trees, but not even the Great Spotted Woodpeckers were up to anything this morning. In the cold and damp, nothing was singing and there were generally few birds in the poplars.

We continued on a little further and stopped again. Three Grey Wagtails flew past us, heading downstream, one of the males singing as they passed and a little while later they came back the other way. One of the males then returned alone and stopped to sing on one of the fallen trees lying across the river close by – possibly he had been chasing off a rival pair which had entered his territory. A Kingfisher flew in and perched on the fallen tree too, for a minute, before zooming off upstream in a flash of electric blue.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – singing from one of the fallen trees across the river

 

Eventually a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers appeared. The first was silent, and flew off over our heads and across the river, but it was quickly followed by a second which called as it landed in the poplars and stayed for a minute before flying off. There was still no sign of the promised brighter intervals!

We were about to give up when we heard too brief bursts of drumming, the distinctive faster, longer drum of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It was coming from somewhere back along the path, though we couldn’t tell which side the river. By the time we got back to where we thought it might have been along the path, which was muddy again and slippery from all the rain, it had gone quiet once more. We waited a while to see if it would do anything again, but it was clear we weren’t going to get much of a performance given the weather this morning, so we headed back.

On the walk back along the path, a Yellowhammer was calling from over by the railway line and we got it in the scope, a smart male. Another pair of Yellowhammers were on the ground under the feeders back in the garden by the bridge.

We paid a brief visit to St Helens picnic site to see if we could find the Woodlarks there, but the field next to the car park was empty today. A Grey Wagtail was singing down by the river, we heard another pair of Mandarin Ducks, and there were large numbers of Redwings in the poplars across the river here.

It seemed to be drying out a bit and the darker grey clouds appeared to have lifted a touch, so we decided it was possibly our best chance of finding a Goshawk now. We could also eat lunch while we waited. We were encouraged by the sight of several Common Buzzards starting to circle up as we arrived and then a Goshawk appeared low above the trees. Unfortunately it dropped quickly back behind the treeline, before everyone to get onto it. Very frustrating – would that be it?

Thankfully, as we were scanning the trees to see if it would reappear, one of the group noticed a raptor high overhead and we watched as an adult Goshawk flew across in front of us. It started to display, flying with slow, deep, deliberate wingbeats, then stopped to circle for a few minutes away to our left, before dropping away behind the trees.

The weather continued to improve as we ate our lunch – some patches of blue sky appeared and we could even finally feel a bit of warmth from the sun. We were then treated to an impressive performance from the Goshawks. First, what was presumably the same bird we had just been watching reappeared, circling up with a second Goshawk away to our left. They both appeared to be adults, and we watched as they started to display and chased each other back behind the trees. Then we picked up a different adult Goshawk, away to our right, which circled up and had a brief tussle with a couple of Common Buzzards.

Next, we spotted two more Goshawks displaying away in the distance – this time one of them was a juvenile, orange-tinged below and brown above as it turned in the sun. It appeared to be a big bird, presumably a female, and it chased after the adult which was with it.

Goshawk

Goshawk – one of several birds which put on a great show for us

 

Unfortunately we only caught the back end of one of the Goshawks as it dropped down into the trees right in front of us, but helpfully it circled back up after a few minutes, giving us our best views of all, before it flew off away from us. We thought it was the same bird which we noticed circling further back a few minutes later, but through the scope we could see that this one was a juvenile, possibly a young male, with gaps in its wings, so different from the juvenile we had seen earlier.

There were other birds to distract us here too, when we weren’t watching the Goshawks. A Red Kite circled lazily behind us and a Sparrowhawk flew up from the trees, with bursts of rapid flapping, very different from the Goshawks. A Curlew called a couple of times and then burst into its delightful bubbling song as it circled down into the grass behind us. There were several Skylarks singing constantly now, but then a Woodlark flew in overhead calling and dropped down into the grass too, where we could get it in the scope.

It was a really impressive display from the Goshawks today, and far better than we could have dreamt of in the cold and damp weather this morning. After lunch, we decided to head off and try our luck elsewhere. With the sun shining now, we figured the Willow Tits might start singing and we were quickly rewarded. As we walked into the plantation with the feeding tables, one started singing almost immediately.

We followed the song, as we thought it might come out on the sunny edge of the trees, but the Willow Tit moved deeper into the plantation. We could hear it singing and occasionally calling too. Then it went quiet. We walked back to the feeding tables, figuring it might do a circuit, and watched all the commoner tits and Nuthatches coming in to the seeds. A Marsh Tit put in an appearance too.

When the Willow Tit started singing again, it sounded like it was heading slowly back towards us, so we watched the edge of trees hoping it would come out. Then it went quiet for a minute and the next thing it started up again on the other side of the track, behind the second feeding table. It carried on singing but was moving deeper into the plantation away from us again.

The plan was to spend the afternoon at Lynford Arboretum, so we headed over there next. As we walked in along the track, there were a few tits and a Nuthatch coming to the fat balls in the cage in front of the gate. A few Chaffinches were feeding on the ground and a Marsh Tit dropped in briefly too.

The Hawfinches have been seen most reliably in the paddocks in the last few weeks, so we decided to make our way straight down there. Down at the bottom of the hill, before we got to the bridge, we heard Goldcrests calling and looked up in the top of a couple of tall fir trees to see them flycatching, after lots of small midges buzzing around the branches.

There was a sharper call too and then a Firecrest started singing from the deciduous trees behind us. We had a great view of it as it flitted around in the bare branches.

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing down by the bridge

There was not too much seed left out on the pillars of the bridge, although a smart male Reed Bunting was feeding on one. We added a couple of generous handfuls of sunflower seeds and then continued on down towards the paddocks, figuring we would come back and see what was coming in to the seed on our way back.

When we stopped at a gap in the hedge to scan the paddocks, we could see lots of Redwings down in the grass. Something spooked them and they flew up into the trees out in the middle. Scanning through the tops, a Hawfinch appeared with them,  in the top of one of the hornbeams. It was a smart male, rich chestnut coloured and with a neat black mask and bib. We got it in the scope and admired it massive cherry stone-crusher of a bill.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male in the trees in the paddocks

After we had all had a really good look at it, the Hawfinch eventually dropped back down towards the ground under the biggest clump of trees. The Redwings were mostly down here too and, scanning through, we could see several Chaffinches and a smart male Brambling too. A Treecreeper appeared on one of the trunks in amongst them.

When something spooked all the Redwings again, they flew off towards the Arboretum. We expected to find the Hawfinch up in the trees again, but there was no sign of it this time. Perhaps it was still hiding somewhere on the ground. We decided to walk back.

There was very little on the lake today – although a couple of Little Grebes laughed maniacally at us from the reeds – so we headed back to the bridge. As we stood and watched, a steady succession of tits came in to the sunflower seeds we had put out earlier. We had great close views of the Marsh Tits here in particular.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming in to the sunflower seeds at the bridge

There were two or three Nuthatches coming in and out here too – always great birds to watch and nice to see them up close.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – close views down at the bridge again

 

There was still one last thing we wanted to try to do this afternoon, so we made our way back to the car. We wanted to try to find a Stone Curlew, so we headed over to an area where we have seen some in recent days. We had a quick look in some pig fields first – which produced a couple of Oystercatchers, a few Shelduck and a group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The Stone Curlews were in here late in the afternoon last week, but not today.

Then we went to look in another field where the Stone Curlews can sometimes be found. There was no sign of them here either at first, just a couple of Red-legged Partridges. But scanning really carefully, we spotted the top of a head just poking out in some stubble. We got the scope on it and eventually the head of a Stone Curlew appeared. We could see its bright yellow iris when it opened its eye and its black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – almost impossible to see in the stubble

The Stone Curlew was incredibly well camouflaged, perfectly coloured against the faded yellows and browns of the stubble. Until it moved, it was almost impossible to see. Then we realised there was a second Stone Curlew nearby when it moved! After watching them for  while, it was time to head for home.

It was a wonderful way to end the tour, watching the two Stone Curlews. Looking back, we had enjoyed some great birds over the two days we were out together. The weather hadn’t made it easy at times, but it just goes to show what you can find when you get out and look!

27th March 2018 – Brecks Birding Again

A Private Tour down in the Brecks today. The forecast earlier in the week was for heavy rain all day, which by yesterday was tempered to heavy rain clearing mid morning. As it was, we didn’t get any heavy rain at all, although it did rain in the morning and stayed stubbornly grey and misty all afternoon. Still, the weather almost never stops us getting out and seeing some good birds.

Our first target for the day was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. As we parked in the Forestry Commission car park it was drizzling still, so we donned boots and waterproofs and set off. On our way down to the bridge, we could hear Bramblings singing in the trees – more of a wheeze than a song. We found several in the trees by the feeders and had a good look at one male in particular which perched nicely above us.

Brambling

Brambling – several were singing down by the bridge

 

As we set off along the river bank path, a Treecreeper was singing in the first poplars and we eventually located it in a tree right above the path. A little further along, we found a Chiffchaff flitting around in the sallows above the ditch. This was the first of several we came across this morning, feeding low down along the edge of the river.

Although there has been the odd Chiffchaff singing here in recent weeks, these seemed like they might be new arrivals, returning for the summer.

Chiffchaff

Chifchaff – feeding feverishly along the river bank

We hadn’t gone much further when two Kingfishers flashed past, one over the reeds on one side of the path and the other back past us along the river. With a shout of ‘Kingfisher‘, half the group watched one as half saw the other and only afterwards we realised we were looking at different birds!

The Kingfisher which had flown along the river landed in one of the bushes overhanging the water just behind us, where we had a nice look at it, before it dropped down into the river and then flew off again.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – one of the two which flew past us simultaneously

As we were walking on along the path, we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call in the distance. Unfortunately, it was a long way back from the river and on the other side to us. We stood for a minute or so and listened in case it should call again, but it would be impossible to see it here anyway, so we decided to carry on to another favoured spot and try our luck there.

A little further on, and we found our first Mandarins of the day, a pair. At first we noticed the female, on a grassy pool just beyond the far bank. Then the drake swam out into view too. Stunning birds, and the first of many we would see today – they were hard to count!

Mandarin

Mandarin Duck – our first pair of the day were on a grassy pool by the river

It was non-stop action along the river bank at first, but once we got to the area where we hoped to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, all was quiet at first. As we walked slowly along, scanning the trees and listening carefully, we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling and drumming and then found it high in a poplar by the river.

There were flocks of Redwings in the trees too and Siskins flying back and forth. We heard a couple of Marsh Tits singing and found a pair of Nuthatches flying around high in the trees. Thankfully the rain eased off a little as we stood and waited.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long. A series of sharp ‘ki,ki,ki,ki…’ calls alerted us to the arrival of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and a few seconds later we spotted it as it flew over to another tree. We got it in the scope and could see it working its way up a dead branch high in one of the poplars. It stayed just long enough for everyone to get a quick look at it through the scope, and then flew across to another.

We could still see the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker through binoculars, but it was on the move constantly. When it flew again, we lost sight of it in the branches further along. We walked up to where it had seemed to land, and a minute or so later flew again. This time it seemed to go a long way, although again we lost sight of it from where we were and couldn’t see whether it had flown across the river.

We walked back slowly along the path, listening and scanning the trees, but the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker didn’t call again, so perhaps it had gone away across the river. Having seen it already, we decided not to wait any longer for it to reappear and started to make our way back. Another pair of Mandarins had been flying round constantly as we waited and now we found them perched up in the trees beside the river. A different male landed on the water below, before they all flew off again.

As we got back to the bridge, a pair of Siskins were flitting around in the sallows and the male started songflighting. We had a quick look in the poplars by the road, but all was quiet. When we got back to the car, we heard Mandarin calling and looked up to see a group of five flying over the trees up towards the church.

It was time for a coffee break, so we drove down to the picnic area at St Helens. As we got out of the car there were lots of Redwings chattering in the trees. A male Grey Wagtail was singing from the handrail of the footbridge before flying off upstream. Yet another pair of Mandarins flew over calling and dropped down towards the river.

The coffee stop was quickly interrupted as a pair of Woodlarks dropped down into the cultivated field nearby. We managed to get one of them in the scope, but they quickly flew again, the female Woodlark up into a nearby beech tree while the male started to sing, fluttering round in circles on butterfly wings over the field.

Woodlark

Woodlark – the female turned out to be colour-ringed

 

When the female Woodlark dropped down into the field again to feed, much closer this time, we could get a better look at her. We could see that she was colour-ringed, with a combination of different coloured plastic rings. This normally would allow us to find out the details of where and when she was ringed and has been seen since, but at the time of writing this is proving harder to find out than it should! We watched as the Woodlark crept around in and out of the clods of earth.

It had stopped raining now, but it was still showing no signs of brightening up. We had been hoping to look for Goshawks, but we knew it would be difficult in the cold, grey and misty conditions. We headed over there anyway, but took a detour on the way to see if we could find any Stone Curlews. They are only back in very small numbers so far, possibly not a surprise given all the recent cold weather, and they proved elusive today too.

We did have nice views of a Tree Sparrow in a hedge while we were looking. There were a few Shelducks and a couple of Oystercatchers in the pig fields. A rather pale Common Buzzard was perched in a tree, but a second Buzzard flew low past us and we noticed a Red Kite circling over a nearby wood. The first raptor activity we had seen today.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow – hiding in the hedge

 

 

 

It was time for lunch so we decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and headed over to an area to try our luck for Goshawks. As we ate, we scanned the trees, but there was not a single raptor visible, not even a Common Buzzard up here today. A little group of Yellowhammers perched up in a bush with a couple of Reed Buntings. Several Roe Deer were out feeding in the edge of one of the fields and a pair of Greylag Geese were hiding in the winter wheat too.

The highlight was a pair of Curlew which flew in calling and circled down slowly into one of the fields. They are still very scarce breeders here, so it is always good to see a pair presumably back on territory.

After lunch, we decided to move on and try our luck with Willow Tits instead, while waiting to see if it might brighten up. We walked in to an area of plantation where some feeding tables have been set up for them. Just as we arrived, a brief sighting on one of the tables looked good for a Willow Tit, but it didn’t hang around or reappear.

As we stood and watched for a few minutes, a succession of Coals Tits, Marsh Tits and other tits came in and out. Then a Willow Tit started singing from the trees nearby. We followed the song, and eventually found a Willow Tit high in one of the pines. It seemed like there might be a pair here today, as at one point there appeared to be two birds present.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting in the early afternoon

 

It was still cloudy and grey, but it felt like the cloud had lifted a little, so we thought we could have one last look to see if there were any raptors up. On our way round, we spotted a Barn Owl on a post out among the bushes in a grassy meadow. They can be seen out hunting much more often in the daytime at the moment, probably still hungry after the recent snow.

Our efforts were rewarded with a lone Red Kite which appeared briefly above the trees, but there was still no sign even of any Common Buzzards taking to the air. Then the cloud base descended again and it started to rain once more, so we decided to admit defeat.

 

Our final destination for the day was Lynford Arboretum. Thankfully we drove out of the rain and it was dry again when we arrived. As we got out of the car, we noticed a small bird flitting around in one of the deciduous trees by the car park and a quick look confirmed it was a Firecrest.

Firecrest

Firecrest – flitting around in the trees by the car park

 

It was hard to make out any detail on the Firecrest at first, high in the trees, but it would periodically chase after an insect on the wing and flutter down lower, where we could see its strongly marked face pattern and brighter green upperparts than a Goldcrest. A second Firecrest then started singing from one of the fir trees nearby, but it was presumably deep in the thick foliage and we couldn’t see it.

We made our way quickly down towards the paddocks, stopping briefly to look at the feeders from the gate. Even though there were more fatballs today and more seed spread on the ground, it was rather quiet here, just a few tits and a Chaffinch. There was very little seed left out for the birds at the bridge, so we added a couple of generous helpings of sunflower seeds and headed down to check out the paddocks.

As we walked up to a gap in the hedge, one of the group spotted the first Hawfinch high in one of the hornbeams. We had a good look at it through the scope – it was a smart male, bright chestnut coloured. Shortly afterwards, it was joined by a duller grey-brown female and then a second male Hawfinch appeared with them too.

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – a bright male up in one of the hornbeams

 

When the Hawfinches all dropped down out of the tops of the trees, we scanned the ground underneath. We couldn’t see them there, but we did find a female Hawfinch right out in the open, in the middle of the grass with the Redwings! It hopped around for a couple of minutes, in and out of the tussocks, picking at the ground, before it flew back to the trees.

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – this female was hopping around in the middle of the grass

 

Having enjoyed great views of the Hawfinches, we made our way back to the bridge to see what was coming in to feed on the seed we had put out earlier. There were plenty of tits coming in and out, and we had great close views of several Marsh Tits here. Three different Nuthatches kept zooming in to grab beakfuls of seeds too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in for sunflower seeds down at the bridge

Then suddenly all the birds spooked and disappeared off into the trees. We looked around but couldn’t see any sign of something which might have frightened them. We decided to go and have a look around the lake. As we set off along the path, a quick look up into the trees in the paddocks and we noticed lots of birds in the tops. A closer look through the scope confirmed there were now at least seven Hawfinches here, though they were hard to count from here as there were several well hidden in the branches.

The Hawfinches all gradually dropped down through the branches, and we continued on. A Treecreeper was feeding on the trunk of one of the trees by the path and proved remarkably tame, allowing us to walk almost alongside. A second Treecreeper appeared too and we followed them for several minutes as they moved ahead of us along the path.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – great views feeding by the path beside the lake

There were not many ducks on the lake today – just a couple of pairs of Gadwall and a Mallard or two. Two Canada Geese were on the lawn beyond, along with several Moorhens. Our final pair of Mandarins for the day flew over the paddocks calling. We could hear Little Grebes laughing at us and eventually found one hiding in the reeds.

It was time to start heading back now. A quick glance back over the trees revealed a large, long-winged, long-tailed raptor in the distance, flying steadily towards us out of the clouds. Through the scope, we could see it was a Marsh Harrier, not what we were expecting here and possibly a bird migrating back north. When we got back to the bridge, the birds had all returned to feed again, including a female Reed Bunting now.

Then it was a nice gentle walk back to the car and off to make our way home. Despite the difficult weather, we had enjoyed a great day out and seen a very good selection of Breckland birds.