Tag Archives: Common Crossbill

16th Mar 2019 – Brecks Bonanza

A group day tour down in the Brecks today. The weather forecast looked pretty apocalyptic earlier in the week – a weather warning for strong winds and rain expected all through the morning at least – to the point where there were thoughts of cancelling. However, holding our nerve it looked like the forecast was improving slightly as we got closer to the day. As it turned out, it was another windy day, but bearable, and it stayed dry all day. And we had a fantastic day out with loads of birds!

Our first destination for the morning saw us park up by a ride into the forest. As we walked in along the track, a Woodlark flew up from the clearing next to us and started singing, just what we were hoping to see here. We watched it towering up into the sky – noting its rounded wings and very short tail. Given the wind this morning it was remarkable just how high it went and how hard it was having to work to maintain its position.

Eventually the Woodlark descended again and dropped down onto the short heather a bit further along. We walked over to try to get a closer look but before we could get there it flew again and disappeared into some long grass over by the trees at the back of the clearing. We carried on down to where the path cuts through under the railway, flushing a Yellowhammer from the bushes by the path on the corner.

As we stopped to scan the open area beyond the path, three Woodlarks flew up from the long grass over the other side in front of the trees. Two of them, presumably a pair, flew away behind us but the other one, a lone male hovered up singing again before dropping down into the short grass. Now we could get a really good look at it on the ground in the scope.

Woodlark

Woodlark – dropped down to feeding in the short grass

With really good views of Woodlark secured, we followed the path round by the reedbed towards the river. A pair of Long-tailed Tits flitted through the brambles ahead of us and a Reed Bunting called from somewhere in the reeds. One or two Siskins periodically flew over calling. Two Greylag Geese flew high overhead, following the river valley, and three Teal flew low over the reeds past us.

Down at the river, the trees seemed very quiet. It was grey and cool and rather windy, with the wind lashing the tops of the poplars, so perhaps no surprise that the birds were hiding themselves, probably feeding in the denser alders and birches. We walked slowly down to the furthest stand of poplars, listening for any sound of woodpeckers on the way.

A Nuthatch called from the back of the trees and eventually showed itself on one of the trunks in front of us. A pair of Stock Doves flew through the trees the other side of the river. We scanned the alders across the river from here, which have been a good spot for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in recent days, but it didn’t seem like we would be lucky here today.

With other things to do this morning, we decided to give up and walk back. The trees half way back are sometimes a bit more sheltered from the wind, so we stopped to have a brief scan of the alders across the river here. There seemed to be a bit more life here – a Great Tit was singing at least – but there didn’t seem to anything much in the trees. We were just walking away when we looked across the river and noticed something move in the branches. Lifting our binoculars and looking where it seemed to land we found a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker!

It dropped down and we lost sight of it, but at least we now knew where at least one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers was hiding. As we stood and stared at the trees, one of the group spotted a red crown looking round from behind one of the alder trunks – a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It was obviously working its way slowly up the other side of the trunk, out of view, but would occasionally come round onto the side, where we could see it. As well as its red crown, we could see its ladder-striped back and appreciate its small size.

As it kept disappearing from view behind the tree, it was hard to get the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the scope for any lengthy period but eventually it came round onto the side for a bit longer. Unfortunately, not all the group got to see it in the scope before it set off along a side branch and then flew up into the tops beyond. When we tried to get the scope on it again, it moved and we lost sight of it. We alerted the other people along the river bank, but despite lots of pairs of eyes scanning we couldn’t find it again. Someone did find a Great Spotted Woodpecker though, on the rotting stump of a dead tree, which was a bit more accommodating, giving much more prolonged scope views.

The skies seemed to have lightened a little, even though it was still remaining solidly cloudy. With the morning getting on now, it was time to go looking for Goshawks, so we headed back to the van, stopping on the way to admire a female Stonechat which flew across the path ahead of us and perched on the sheltered side of a bush to preen. Then we drove over to a spot overlooking an area of forest.

We were barely out of the van and set up before the first Goshawk appeared above the trees, a big female. She was up for some time, trying to display despite the wind, flapping with very deep, very slow, exaggerated beats. Then she dropped back down behind the trees.

Goshawk 1

Goshawk – several birds were displaying, despite the wind

We had just stopped to talk about Goshawks and their display, when another one appeared over the trees further across, this time a smaller male. It spend several minutes patrolling over the tops too before disappeared down into the trees again.

It was all action today. After a few minutes, we looked away to our right to see two Goshawks away to our right. Up in the air together, we could see the size difference between them, one a male and the other a female. One of them was a young bird too, a 2nd calendar year raised in 2018, darker grey-brown above and streaked below. It had strayed over the adults’ territory and one of them had come up to warn it off. The youngster seemed to drift away and the adult flew back across and dropped into the trees.

A short while later, we looked back in that direction as all the pigeons started to scatter from the trees. The young Goshawk was chasing them! We watched as it soared up and then swooped down through the tops of the trees. It didn’t get particularly close to any of the pigeons, but it did come much closer to us as it came out of the trees again and over the edge of the field, before flying up and away. Great to watch!

Goshawk 2

Goshawk – this young bird was chasing pigeons out of the trees

That wasn’t the end of it! Another Goshawk appeared over the trees in front of us but quite a bit further back and started displaying. It could have been the male we had seen earlier, but it was hard to tell. It was up for a while and easier to get in the scopes where it was. Even better, after a long bout of slow flapping display, it launched into the full rollercoaster – swooping down, dropping sharply before turning back up, slowing as it climbed and stalling at the top before repeating again and again. Then it dropped sharply down into the trees.

It was not just Goshawks. There were several Common Buzzards up enjoying the wind, and a Sparrowhawk flew over the field in front of us. A Skylark was up singing too. A Brown Hare loped along the edge of the field right in front of us, seemingly thinking we couldn’t see it behind the open sheep wire! It stopped at the open gate, contemplating whether to brave the opening, but turned and ran back the way it had come.

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – trying to hide behind the sheep wire!

We couldn’t have hoped for a much better display from the Goshawks, a great show despite the cloud and wind. We decided to head over to Brandon to get some shelter, some lunch and a welcome hot drink to warm up. On the way there, a Red Kite hung in the wind low over the road right in front of us.

While we were eating lunch, we kept an eye on the feeders, where a succession of tits came in. We were just finishing when we heard a Firecrest singing from the back of the car park. It was distant at first but seemed to be getting closer. We walked over to see if we could find it but it went quiet and when we heard it again it had moved much further back into the trees.

After lunch, we had a quick walk down to the lake. There were lots of Mallard loafing around on the grass as usual and we looked over to see a single drake Mandarin walking along the bank on the edge of the water. It dropped in to join a female already swimming and the two of them made their way back to the far edge. As we walked round the lake, they swam out into the middle again where they were joined by a second pair. Nice to see them back here again!

Mandarin

Mandarin – there were two pairs back again today

It was a bit more exposed to the wind in the trees around the lake, and we couldn’t find many birds here today. There were also quite a few people out for a walk this afternoon. We heard a Marsh Tit calling.

We headed back up to Lynford Arboretum next. We had only just got there when we got a message to say that the Great Grey Shrike was back in the clearing south of Brandon, close to where we had just had lunch! It was probably a good thing we hadn’t got the message earlier, as we decided to press on and have a look round the Arboretum first, figuring we would be better trying to see the birds here before it got too late.

As we walked in to the Arboretum, there were quite a few birds in the larches again but all we could see were Siskins and Goldfinches in the tops today. A Goldcrest flew across and fed out in the open on the nearest branches where we could get a really good look at it.

We stopped at the gate to look at the feeders. Several Bramblings flew up into the trees as we approached and gradually started to filter back down to the ground or the feeders. The feeders are a bit low on food at the moment and the seed on the ground was looking a bit sparse too, so there were not as many birds here as there have been recently. Still, we counted at least 8 Bramblings down together and a very smart male with an increasingly black head dropped down into the pool to drink.

Brambling

Brambling – we counted at least 8 here still

There were one or two Yellowhammers feeding on the ground under the feeders again, but there were more coming to poach the chicken food out in the orchard beyond! Several were perched up in the flowering blackthorn on the edge of the orchard too.

Continuing on down the path, we couldn’t see the regular Tawny Owl in the fir trees today – possibly it had chosen somewhere else to roost today, given the wind and rain overnight last night. There wasn’t much food left on the pillars – it looked like no one had been down here today. There were a few tits still coming to the feeders and a Coal Tit perched  nicely in the bushes.

We continued on to the paddocks. There were several Redwings in one of the hornbeams out in the middle, but there didn’t seem to be much else here. Again, it looked rather windy and uninviting. We stopped to scan the trees and while we were doing so we heard a Common Crossbill flying over calling. They have been coming down to drink by the bridge regularly in recent weeks, so we looked back and found it perched in the top of one of the trees back by the path, a smart red male.

We hurried back for a closer look and got the Crossbill in the scope, perched high above us in the trees. Then it dropped down into the dense bushes on the corner of the path. Rather than coming down to drink at one of the open pools today, it was obviously looking to drop down to the ditch below. We could see it perched in amongst the tangle of branches.

Common Crossbill

Common Crossbill – waiting to come down to drink

Eventually the Crossbill plucked up the courage to drop down. We couldn’t see it when it was down in the ditch and then, rather than fly back up into the trees after it had finished, it flew off over the paddocks calling.

As we walked back along the path to have another look at the paddocks, we noticed a bird right in the top of the ash trees in the middle. A Hawfinch! We hurried up to the gap in the hedge and got the scopes on it. It didn’t stay long though, so it was good we hurried back. It dropped down a little into the branches and then after a minute or so took off, followed by two more Hawfinches. We watched the three of them circle round over the paddocks several times before flying back and up into the pines beyond. One of them perched right in the top of one of the trees where we got it in the scopes again.

We could still hear Hawfinches calling in one of the hornbeams, but before we had a chance to look for them, they flew up too and headed off away over the paddocks. It seemed like they had decided to head off to roost early today, given the grey and windy weather, so it was good we had come down here first.

With both Hawfinch and Crossbill seen, and still time to spare before it got too late, we decided to make a quick dash back to the other side of Brandon to try our luck with the Great Grey Shrike. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic in Brandon and we got to the ride in the forest quickly. Another group was just leaving and told us the shrike was still there when they had left the clearing.

As we walked in along the ride, four geese flew over. Two looked distinctly smaller and as they came over the trees past us we could see them, looking up through the tops. There were two small Barnacle Geese accompanying two much larger Canada Geese. Really odd to see them flying over here – who knows where they had come from and where they were heading to!

We made our way quickly out to the clearing at the end, stopping briefly to listen to some Siskin twittering in the pines. As we approached the clearing, we stopped to scan the low pines in the middle and couldn’t see the Great Grey Shrike, but as we got out beyond the tall trees flanking the ride, we looked across to see it perched on the fence away to our left. We walked slowly over that way on the path, stopping from time to time to look at it in the scopes.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – on the fence on the edge of the clearing

We had some great views of the Great Grey Shrike. It kept dropping down to the ground below the fence, then flying up again a bit further along. Eventually, as it got closer to the corner, it turned and flew back along the fence. It stopped to hover high above the trees – presumably looking for prey below – the dropped to perch on one of the pines. We walked round onto the track which runs alongside the clearing, but the Great Grey Shrike was now heading back out into the middle of the clearing. We saw it perched in the top of a spindly birch sapling, then it dropped down into the young pines out of view.

That was a great way to finish off what had been a very successful day’s birding in the Brecks, well worth the last minute dash over here. We had a more leisurely walk back down the ride to the van and were not much later than planned finishing the day back where we had started.

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.

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.

7th Oct 2017 – Autumn Weekend, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Autumn Tours today. It was forecast to be cloudy all day, with rain expected early afternoon. Although largely correct for once, thankfully the rain held off until later than expected and meant we could get a good day out in the field.

As we drove east along the coast road at the start of the day, we had a quick look out at the cows on the grazing meadow east of Stiffkey village. There was no sign of the Cattle Egret, but this was not a surprise. This bird appears to be a late riser! We would have a proper look later.

Our first destination for the morning was Stiffkey Fen. As we walked down along the permissive path, three flocks of Goldfinches flew over, totalling about 60 birds. They might be locals, but there were finches on the move today so perhaps these were on their way somewhere too. A Redwing flew over ‘teezing’, and headed off inland. Two Stock Doves were feeding in the recently sown field. A helicopter flew over somewhere towards the coast, drowning out all the birds – we couldn’t see it but we could certainly hear it and it sounded low.

When the helicopter had passed, we could hear tits calling in the trees on the other side of the road, Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits. As we set off down the footpath alongside the river, a Dunnock called from the trees and a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes.

There are a couple of places along the path where you can see over the reeds to the Fen and there looked to be a slightly disappointing number of birds on here today, particularly considering it was a big high tide in the harbour, which normally means birds come in here to roost. At that point we realised why, as the helicopter came back again, the other way. It was flying low over the north side of the Fen and spooked all the birds which were left. A lot of the ducks disappeared out towards the Harbour.

When we got up onto the seawall, we could see there was not much left on the Fen. There were still a few ducks – Wigeon, Teal, a couple of Gadwall and a few Shoveler – but not the number which should be here now. At first we could see next to no waders, apart from a couple of Ruff, but we heard Greenshanks calling and round in the corner we found a group of 21 of them asleep. With them were a few Redshank and Ruff and a handful of Black-tailed Godwits.

Because the tide was in, the channel and the harbour were full of water. We could see a line of roosting Oystercatchers on Blakeney Point, with a number of seals pulled out on the beach at the far end. On the near side of the harbour, a few more Oystercatchers were roosting on a spit with half a dozen Bar-tailed Godwits. Numbers of Brent Geese are steadily increasing for the winter now, and we could see a small group flying round further along towards Morston.

We stood on the seawall for a few minutes, scanning out towards the harbour. There were clearly birds moving today, though not in any great number. Two Skylarks flew high west. Two Yellowhammers flew past us too, but these were probably local birds and they dropped into the hedge further along. A Kingfisher called behind us and we turned to see it disappearing into the sallows along the river.

Birds were slowly returning to the Fen, but it was clear they probably wouldn’t come back in big numbers this tide now. A couple of flocks of Redshanks flew back in from the harbour, and two more Black-tailed Godwits. A large mob of Greylag Geese flew back in from the fields. We decided we would be better to head on somewhere else. As we started to walk back along the path, a large flock of Wigeon flew in over the seawall and circled over the Fen nervously, calling.

Red KiteRed Kite – flew past us at Stiffkey Fen

We looked back from the path across the water and noticed a large raptor circling over the small ridge to the east of the Fen. It was a Red Kite. It banked and turned towards us before flying lazily over the north edge of the Fen and straight past us, heading west.

The Cattle Egret tends to appear mid-morning and we had now reached the time when it should normally be with the cows. As we started walking down the path to see if it had arrived yet, some people coming the other way confirmed that it was there already. As soon as we got to the corner, we could see it – an obvious white shape out in the grass. We watched it for a while, walking around among the cows’ legs. One cow in particular was more active, and the Cattle Egret followed it closely for several minutes. Two Grey Herons among the cows too were much more static in their approach.

Cattle EgretCattle Egret – back feeding with the cows again mid morning

When two or three of the cows walked down into the edge of the wet ditch at the back of the field, the Cattle Egret quickly spotted them and flew over to join them. It walked down into the ditch and disappeared from view, so we decided to move on.

There had been a Red-necked Phalarope at Kelling for a few hours yesterday afternoon, but it had been flushed and flown off out to sea. At that point, news came through that it was back, so we decided to make our way straight round there, before it flew off again.

When we arrived in Kelling, there were lots of cars parked in the village – the phalarope was obviously proving a popular draw today. We had to park further up along the road, and as we got out of the car, we thought we could hear a Crossbill. It was just a couple of calls, but when we stopped to listen carefully, there was nothing. Perhaps we were mistaken. However, as we crossed the main coast road and started to walk into the lane, we heard the Crossbill again. There it was, perched in the top of the fir tree, a smart male.

Common CrossbillCommon Crossbill – appeared briefly in the top of a fir tree in Kelling

It stayed perched there for a couple of minutes, long enough for us to get a good look at it through scope. It was a Common Crossbill, a scarce bird here, probably dispersing in search for cones. We did look extra carefully, given the recent arrival of several rarer and larger-billed Parrot Crossbills into the Northern Isles, but we just confirmed what we already knew (Parrot Crossbill has a different call) – it was definitely a Common Crossbill. Then a Chaffinch flew up and chased it from its perch and the Crossbill disappeared.

There were a few Greenfinches and Chaffinches in the bushes along the lane. Three more Redwings flew over calling, and headed off inland. Several small groups of Pink-footed Geese flew over too, heading west, possibly fresh arrivals, just back for the winter from Iceland.

Pink-footed Geese 1Pink-footed Geese – several small groups flew over us this morning

Down at the Water Meadow, we found several people watching the Red-necked Phalarope. We had a quick look at it through the scope from the path, then round to the far corner which it seemed to be favouring for a closer look.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – we enjoyed great views of this juvenile at Kelling

The Red-necked Phalarope was still in juvenile plumage, with a dark back marked with bold pale straw coloured lines. We watched it for a while, swimming, spinning round, picking for food which it stirred up to the surface. As we stood quietly, it gradually came closer giving us a great close view of it.

There were a few other birds around the Water Meadow. Two Common Snipe were preening in the rushes in the back corner, and several Redshank and a Ruff were feeding along the muddy edges. A Grey Heron was standing on the island in the middle. As the Red-necked Phalarope made its way steadily further back again, we decided to move on.

Just along the coast at Cley, a Grey Phalarope had been around since yesterday too, so we decided to head round to try to see that next, two phalaropes for the price of one. We parked at Walsey Hills and walked along to the East Bank, but when we got there we met another local birder walking back who told us it had just flown off. Very annoying, as it had seemed to be the more settled of the two phalaropes!

The Grey Phalarope had apparently headed off towards the reserve, so we went to Bishop Hide to see if it was on Pat’s Pool, as it had been on there at one point yesterday. As we walked along the path, we could hear Bearded Tits calling from the reeds the other side of the ditch. We turned to see four fly off across the tops of the reeds, but although there were still some calling nearby, they kept well tucked in out of the fresh breeze.

There was no sign of the Grey Phalarope on Pat’s Pool, but there were some other waders on here. We counted 9 Little Stints in one little group, all juveniles, and a single juvenile Curlew Sandpiper with them. There have been unusually large numbers of Little Stints here at Cley in the last week or so, up to 40 at one point. Presumably it was a good breeding season for them up in the arctic. Even today, they outnumbered the Dunlin on Pat’s Pool!

Little StintsLittle Stints – 5 of the 9 on Pat’s Pool today

It was perhaps surprising there were any waders on here at this point. One of the group noticed a female Marsh Harrier lurking half-hidden in the reeds on one of the islands out in the middle of the scrape. Normally the Marsh Harriers tend to spook all the waders as they fly over, so we were not sure if they didn’t see her there or were not so afraid of her when she was on the ground.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – lurking on one of the islands in the middle of Pat’s Pool

It was already lunchtime, so we decided to get something to eat and see if any news surfaced on the current whereabouts of the Grey Phalarope. We could have another look for it ourselves afterwards. So while the group walked the short distance along to the visitor centre, the leader went to pick up the car from Walsey Hills. Only half way there, news came through that the Grey Phalarope was back on the pools off the East Bank. Having picked up the car and driven to the visitor centre, the group were in agreement – we should go to try to see the Grey Phalarope before we stopped to eat.

This time we managed to park at the East Bank and we walked straight out. The Grey Phalarope was on show as we arrived, swimming around on a small pool, in and out of the reeds along the edge. Our second phalarope species of the day!

Grey PhalaropeGrey Phalarope – our second phalarope species of the day

The Grey Phalarope was rather similar to the Red-necked Phalarope we had seen earlier, swimming around in a similar fashion. However, it was noticeably slightly chunkier and particularly heavier billed. Although it too was born this summer, it was more advanced in its moult, having already moulted its mantle and scapulars to grey first winter feathers.

We stopped on the bank for a while to have a look at Pope’s Marsh. There were lots of Greylag Geese and ducks around the Serpentine, and a careful look through revealed at least six Pintail. They were all in female or dull eclipse plumage, so not looking their best and not so easy to pick out at this time of year.

Their loud yelping calls alerted us to a couple of thousand Pink-footed Geese which came up from the fields up on the ridge behind Walsey Hills. Some headed out onto the reserve but a large group landed down on the grazing marsh behind the Serpentine, where we could get a good look at them through the scope.

Pink-footed Geese 2Pink-footed Geese – some of the birds landed on the grazing marsh

We were very pleased with our decision to come straight out for the Grey Phalarope, but it was now definitely time to get something to eat, so we headed back to the visitor centre for a rather later than planned lunch. While we were eating, a helicopter flew low over the north side of the reserve, flushing all the geese and ducks from the Eye Field and Billy’s Wash. We looked over to see it was the same one we had seen flushing all the birds from Stiffkey Fen earlier, and it appeared to be just a charter helicopter, not an emergency or survey aircraft. Surely there was no need to fly low up and down the coast like this, flushing all the birds from several conservation areas? Was this just irresponsible flying?

Annoying helicopterHelicopter – flying low up and down the coast today over several reserves

After lunch, we headed round to the beach. We had a quick look at the sea, but it seemed to be fairly quiet, just a few Gannets in the distance. There were a few people seawatching by the beach shelter and someone shouted ‘large shearwaters’. We quickly looked across to see just two dark juvenile Gannets flying past. A single Red-throated Diver flew past too, and a couple of lone Teal and Wigeon, presumably just odd birds returning from the continent for the winter.

We made our way along the beach to have a look out at North Scrape. When we arrived, there were several waders right at the front – mostly Ruff, but a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was with them. We had a good view of it through the scope, before the waders all flew a little bit further back.

Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper & Ruff – feeding on the mud on North Scrape

Scanning the rest of the birds on the scrape more carefully then, we found another two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers further over. Otherwise, it was mostly ducks on here – lots of Wigeon and Teal and a few Shelduck. There were several more Ruff hiding in with them.

As we made our way back along the beach to the car park, a line of sixteen Brent Geese flew past over the sea, more fresh arrivals coming back from Russia for the winter. A group of small waders flew in off the sea too, three Ringed Plover and a single Dunlin.

It had been forecast to rain earlier in the afternoon, but had held off until now. However, as we got back to the car, it started to spit with rain. It was not too hard and it eased off again as we made our way back west to Warham. We parked and walked down along one of the lanes towards the saltmarsh. The wind had picked up and it started to rain again. The hedges and fields along the lane were very quiet.

When we got out onto the edge of the saltmarsh, it was rather exposed. There was not much immediately in view – just a few Brent Geese, Curlews and Little Egrets. A quick scan revealed a flock of Golden Plover hunkered down out in the middle, very well camouflaged against the saltmarsh vegetation. Time was getting on now anyway and we had enjoyed a good day, so we decided to call it and head back to the warm and dry.