Tag Archives: Crossbill

14th Oct 2018 – Four Autumn Days, Day 4

Day 4 of a four-day Autumn Tour today, our last day. It was meant to rain all day today and, although it was wet at times, it was nowhere near as bad as we might have feared based on the forecast. The wind was very light in the morning, but swung round to the north and picked up a bit more in the afternoon.

With the forecast of rain, we headed over to Cley first thing, so we could take shelter in the hides. But when we got there, it wasn’t raining, so we decided to make the most of it and drove round to the beach first.

As we walked along the shingle, a large flock of Linnets came out of the weedy vegetation the other side of the fence accompanied by Goldfinches and followed by a number of Meadow Pipits. We were looking for a Snow Bunting, which had been here for a few days, but there was no sign of it with these other birds here.

Continuing on to where the vegetation grows out over the open shingle, we walked through amongst the sparse tall weeds around the edge. A couple of Skylarks came up from the edge of the grass and disappeared off towards the Eye Field, and then a Wheatear flew out and landed on a lump of concrete on the beach. It was looking rather bedraggled, presumably from the wet vegetation, and stood there watching us.

Wheatear

Wheatear – this bedraggled individual was feeding out on the edge of the beach

Just a couple of metres further along, we noticed something moving on the shingle right in front of us, as we almost trod on the Snow Bunting. It was feeding quietly on the top of the beach, where some low weeds were growing through the stones. Snow Buntings are often very tame, coming from places where they probably are not used to seeing people, and this one was very accommodating. It was a male, but rather dark grey and brown, an Icelandic Snow Bunting of the insulae subspecies.

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting – feeding quietly on the top of the shingle ridge

A large flock of Ringed Plover flew round over the sea and landed back on the beach some distance further up ahead of us. Looking through the scopes, we could see there were a few Dunlin with them too, but the birds were remarkably hard to see on the stones and part of the flock was hidden from view over a rise in the beach.

There was quite a bit of activity over the rather calm sea this morning, so we stood for a while and scanned out over the water. A steady stream of Gannets came past, mostly flying east, a variety of different colours and ages, from dark grey-brown juveniles, to the white adults with black-tipped wings, and various stages in between.

Gannet

Gannet – several dark grey juveniles were among those flying past

Several Red-throated Divers were swimming on the water and we had a closer look at both an adult still mostly in breeding plumage and one already in grey and white winter attire. A Shag flew west along the shoreline, past us.

At this time of year, birds are arriving from the continent for the winter and there was a nice selection of wildfowl coming in over the sea today. A steady stream of small lines of Brent Geese flew past low over the sea, coming back from their breeding grounds in Russia, and we saw several flocks of Wigeon and Teal too. Two Red-breasted Mergansers flew past just off the beach together with a couple of Teal and a few Common Scoter went past further out.

Looking inland, a Marsh Harrier was standing down on the short grass on the edge of North Scrape, but there didn’t seem to be much else on there today. A Common Snipe and two Redshank were feeding on Billy’s Wash. Remarkably, the rain was still holding off – despite it being forecast to rain all morning – so we thought we would push our luck and head round to the East Bank for a walk. A pair of Grey Seals was bobbing in the water just off the beach, watching the people walking past, as we made our way back to the car.

The East Bank car park was quite full, so we parked at Walsey Hills instead. We stopped to have a look at Snipe’s Marsh first. We could see a Little Egret feeding on the mud amongst the cut reeds, but there didn’t appear to be any waders here at first. However, a careful scan around the edges eventually produced the hoped for Jack Snipe, well spotted by one of the group, asleep in the reeds on one side.

Jack Snipe

Jack Snipe – showed well, sleeping on the edge of reeds

We had a good look at the Jack Snipe through the scope. It woke up at one point and we could see its bill, thicker and shorter than a Common Snipe. We could also see the distinctive head pattern. A Water Rail ran across the mud the other side but disappeared into the reeds before anyone could get onto it. Helpfully it re-emerged a little later and walked back the other way.

There seemed to be some smaller birds on the move this morning, and we could hear Chaffinches calling overhead as we stood by Snipe’s Marsh. One or two Bramblings gave their wheezy calls too. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from time to time from the reeds and a Bullfinch was calling over by North Foreland wood.

There looked to be some darker clouds approaching now, so we decided to have a quick look in the trees at Walsey Hills. As we walked along the footpath, we could hear Robins and a Chiffchaff calling. We had been lucky with the weather up until now but at this point it finally started to rain. We walked up to the top to have a look in the trees, but beat a hasty retreat.

It was time to head for the hides and get out of the weather. Having been to the Visitor Centre to get our permits, we walked quickly out along the boardwalk and straight into Dauke’s Hide. As soon as we got inside, someone very kindly pointed out a Kingfisher, which was perched down on the mud right in front.

The Kingfisher was wrestling with a stickleback. It had dropped it on the mud, but hopped down and picked it up and proceeded to beat it against the small mound it was standing on. It dropped it again and stood looking down at it, before finally picking it up once more and eating it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – was wrestling with a stickleback on the mud in front of the hide

We enjoyed stunning views of the Kingfisher – it kept coming closer to the hide, perching on a post in the channel just in front. Eventually, it flew off up the channel but a few minutes later it was back again on its favourite post.

Dragging our attention away from the Kingfisher, we noticed a Little Stint with ten Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape. It was hard to see properly from Dauke’s, particularly to get an angle for the scopes, so we hurried round to Avocet Hide for a closer look. The Little Stint was noticeably smaller than the accompanying Dunlin, with a shorter bill and cleaner white underparts.

Little Stints have been thin on the ground this autumn. The passage of juveniles through here way outnumbers adults, so it could be that they have had a poor breeding season, or perhaps just the persistent westerlies mean that the numbers reaching here have been low. Either way, it was nice to catch up with one today.

Little Stint

Little Stint – a juvenile with 10 Dunlin on Whitwell Scrape

The Dunlin and Little Stint were spooked by something and flew back across to Simmond’s Scrape, so we went back round to Dauke’s Hide. The Kingfisher had disappeared, but a Water Rail was now running around down in front of the hide, giving great views.

There were a few other waders out on Simmond’s Scrape today, including a Curlew, and a couple of Ringed Plovers. A flock of Golden Plover dropped in. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water on Pat’s Pool.

There are lots of ducks back for the winter already, mainly Wigeon and Teal, along with a few Shoveler. Looking through them carefully, we found a single Pintail, a drake starting to moult out of eclipse plumage. There was a big RSPB group in Dauke’s Hide today, so there was nowhere for us to sit. They had given up looking at the birds though and had settled in to eat their lunch. Eventually, all the loud discussions about double cherry bakewells and their different home made chutneys started to make us hungry, so we decided to head somewhere more appropriate to eat our lunch. Thankfully, the rain had now stopped again.

The shelter round at the beach car park was the perfect spot, out of the wind, which had now swung round to the north. After lunch, we had a quick look out at the sea. There were still lots of Gannets moving, plus one or two plunge diving just offshore now. Several Sandwich Terns were patrolling up and down. A Razorbill flew past, and a Guillemot was diving, out on the sea just off the beach.

There had apparently been an arrival of Blackbirds and Robins overnight, with a few seen around Cley first thing, so we thought we would see if there was any sign of activity down at Kelling Water Meadow. However, the lane was disappointingly quiet, just a few Chaffinches in the trees. Perhaps it had been too disturbed during the morning to hold anything here. There were lots of Pheasants in the fields, and Red-legged Partridges calling – this is a shooting estate after all. Rooks and Jackdaws were flying around the trees or on the hillside beyond the Water Meadow.

Down at the pool, the first thing we noticed were the gulls. There were quite a few Black-headed Gulls, but one young bird immediately stood out. It was a young Mediterranean Gull, a 1st winter. Continuing down to the corner for a better look, we found another two Mediterranean Gulls on here as well, a second 1st winter and also a 2nd winter. There were a few Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls too.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull – one of three immatures on the Water Meadow this afternoon

It was rather exposed when we got out of the shelter of the lane, and it was spitting with rain again. With the lack of any obvious sign of any migrants, we decided to head somewhere more sheltered.

On our way back west, we had a look up at the church tower and could see the Peregrine back again. It didn’t look particularly happy though, facing in to the wall and hunched up, presumably sheltering from wind & drizzle. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – eventually it even turned its head to look round.

Peregrine

Peregrine – back on the church tower, sheltering from the wind & rain

Wells Woods seemed like a good place to finish, where we could get out of the northerly breeze. Several Little Grebes were diving out on the boating lake as we passed. We made our way in and up to the Dell, before we came to a tit flock. One of the first birds we got our binoculars on was a Yellow-browed Warbler. It was feeding in a small birch and we all managed to get a good look at it. A Goldcrest flew into one of the low bushes right next to us to feed, giving us a chance to appreciate just how small they are.

Their glipping calls alerted us to some Common Crossbills in the pines and we quickly realised they were right above our heads. We watched them flying down to the lower branches to find cones, before taking them higher up to deal with. They have been rather few and far between over the last year or so here, so it was great to see them and quite well.

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Common Crossbill – feeding above our heads in the pines by the Dell

We followed the tit flock as it made its way through the trees for a few mins. As well as all the Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits, we could hear Treecreeper and Chiffchaff calling. Eventually, the Long-tailed Tits led the other high up into the pines and they disappeared.

It was a productive few minutes, and a nice way to end the tour, in Wells Woods. We got as far as the drinking pool, but it was time to head back, with people wanting to get away quickly. It had been a very good four days too, with a nice selection of different Autumn birds.

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24th Apr 2017 – Spring in the Brecks

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

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

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

IMG_3347Stone Curlew – hiding among the spring flowers

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

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

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

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

IMG_3369Nightingale – perched out singing for us for ages

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

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

IMG_3381Garganey – a smart drake out on the Washes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A8164Mandarin Duck – a stunning drake down on the lake

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

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

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

12-16th Apr 2017 – Easter in Scotland

Not a tour, but we spent three days in Scotland catching up on some of the local specialities over Easter, with another day either side journeying up and back from Norfolk. As I haven’t been up to Speyside for a few years, it seemed about time for a return visit.

Arriving early for our overnight stop on the way north, we decided to have a quick look up on the moors. We were quickly rewarded with good views of at least 10 male Black Grouse. They were not doing much this evening, but we had high hopes for more activity the following day! Heading on higher up, we found our first Red Grouse of the trip too, though they too were keeping their heads down from the blustery wind.

It was an early start the following morning, to get up onto the moor for dawn. As we drove over the ridge and looked down into the valley below, we could see a scattering of black dots in the grass – 19 displaying male Black Grouse on the lek. They are far enough away here so as not to disturb them, so we got out of the car and could immediately hear their bubbling calls. We got them in the scope and watched them running round, flapping their wings and leaping in the air, with their body feathers puffed out, tail fanned and white undertail feathers fluffed up. It was quite a sight! There were a smaller number of grey-brown females there too, looking slightly non-plussed by all the action around them.

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6O0A5073Black Grouse – great to watch them displaying on the lek

A little further along, we managed to find a single male Black Grouse closer to the road, so we could get some photos. The Red Grouse up on the tops were now calling and displaying. There were also displaying Common Snipe in the valley and several Curlew and Golden Plover on the moors. It had certainly been well worth the stop here. Then it was on with the journey up to the Highlands.

One of our main targets for our stay here was Ptarmigan. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for our stay was not ideal – windy with blustery showers. Not great for hiking up to the Cairngorm plateau. The best day appeared to be on our first full morning there, but it didn’t look good first thing with snow overnight on the tops and low cloud lingering. Thankfully, after breakfast, the cloud base lifted and we could see a short window of opportunity.

We had hoped we might find a Ptarmigan on the slopes below the fresh snow this morning, but it didn’t help that there were lots of people walking up despite the weather today, it being Easter weekend. We got up to a plateau above 1000m where it was safer to stray from the path and a bit of exploration was quickly rewarded with a Ptarmigan running away from us over the snow. We followed it slowly and were eventually able to get quite close to it. A smart bird!

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6O0A5511Ptarmigan – on the Cairngorm plateau above 1000m

The view was impressive up here too, with all the snow on the mountains. However, we could see some darker cloud approaching, so we decided to call it a day and head back down. We were glad we did, as it started to spit with rain for a time and the tops disappeared again into the cloud.

Scotland April 2017 Cairngorms ascent_4Cairngorm Plateau – still with plenty of snow

On our ascent, we had seen a few Red Grouse, but on the way back down we were able to appreciate just how many of them there were on the moors here, and watch them displaying.

6O0A5354Red Grouse – plentiful on the moors lower down

Back down near the car park, a Ring Ouzel flew up from the shorter grass below the ski lifts.

6O0A5570Ring Ouzel – this smart male was feeding around the ski lifts

Crested Tit is one of the other key target species for any visit to the Highlands and we were not disappointed. They can be harder to see in the summer months, and familiarity with their distinctive call certainly helps in locating them. We heard quite a few Crested Tits, when we were in the Caledonian Forest, and got great views of two pairs. The second pair, we watched collecting nest material and the male courtship feeding the female. They are certainly full of character!

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6O0A5922Crested Tits – great birds to watch, we found this pair collecting nest material

As well as the Ospreys at the RSPB’s Loch Garten reserve, we saw several elsewhere. The best moment was probably one flying past the window of our B&B while we were eating our breakfast one morning!

6O0A6028Osprey – a female, calling from the nest, while the male was presumably off fishing

With just a couple of days to play with in the Highlands, and the best morning reserved for the hike up into the Cairngorms, we were always likely to be at the mercy of the weather with our other targets. On our second morning, despite cloud and showers, we headed up to the Findhorn Valley to look for eagles. As we drove up, we could see dark clouds over the head of the valley and when we got there the wind was whistling in and regular sleet showers were blowing through. Not ideal!

We sat in the car for an hour, scanning the hills, but a brief brighter interval produced just a couple of Common Buzzards. Two Wheatears were feeding on the grass in front of the car park and a pair of Common Gulls were hanging around there too. It seemed unlikely there would be any eagles this morning, so we decided to move on.

As we headed down the valley, it brightened up a little lower down. We made our way up over the hills and down the other side to the RSPB reserve at Loch Ruthven. Between the showers, we walked along to the hide. We could see three Slavonian Grebes out on the water, but they were all rather distant while we were there. There are still a lot more to return here yet. A summer plumage Red-throated Diver was fishing on the loch too, along with a few ducks – Goldeneye, Wigeon, Teal and Mallard.

6O0A5850Slavonian Grebe – one of three out on the loch today

With the weather improving a little, and after lunch back at the car park, we decided to have another go at the Findhorn Valley. As we arrived, the head of the valley was still in cloud and another wintry shower blew through. But we could see some blue cloud coming in from behind us and we hadn’t been back five minutes when a 1st winter Golden Eagle appeared over the ridge at the back of the car park. Unfortunately it didn’t hang around and we just got a quick look at it as it disappeared back over the top. A short while later, the Golden Eagle reappeared much further down and we watched as it flew across the valley being mobbed by a Raven. A Peregrine was flying around the hill behind us too.

It seemed unlikely we would better that today and with the day getting on, we headed back down the valley. We took a different route back and stopped off by another loch on the way. It was very windy and  the wind was whipping up the water so it was quite choppy. Scanning with the scope in the lee of the car we were able to locate a single Black-throated Diver, a stunning bird in full summer plumage.

There were various other birds which we caught up with on our travels around Speyside. We heard lots of crossbills, but they were rather flighty and often hard to see. We had nice views of Common Crossbill in the forest and of a family which came down to the small deciduous trees alongside the river in Carrbridge, presumably to drink. There were more crossbills in Abernethy Forest, and we heard both Common and Scottish/Parrot Crossbill flight calls from birds passing overhead. Some larger billed birds resembling Scottish Crossbill were feeding in the trees around the car park at Forest Lodge on a couple of occasions but did not hang around long enough for us to get a prolonged look at them.

6O0A5621Common Crossbill – along the river at Carrbridge

Exploring along various rivers produced a few additional species too, including Goosander, Common Sandpiper and Grey Wagtail. However, the pick of the bunch was Dipper – it was great to watch them feeding in the shallows, dipping under the water.

6O0A5830Chestnut-bellied Dipper – the native British subspecies of Dipper

Mammalian interest on this trip was provided chiefly by the Red Squirrels which we saw at several sites. Two Mountain Hares were seen at the top of the Findhorn Valley. We also saw the herd of (re)introduced Reindeer in the Cairngorms and a few Bank Voles running around under the feeders at Loch Garten.

6O0A5599Red Squirrel – thankfully not uncommon around the forest here

After that, unfortunately our short visit to Scotland had to end and we started to make our way south…

26th Mar 2017 – Brilliant Brecks

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

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

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

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

6O0A1000Jay – enjoying the morning sunshine at Lynford

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

6O0A1003Brambling – singing in the alders down by the river

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

IMG_2769Mandarin – the drake, balanced high in a poplar tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2971Hawfinch – enjoying the late afternoon sun in the treetops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25th Mar 2017 – Brighter Brecks

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2619Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – the male, with bright red crown

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

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

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

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

6O0A0810Common Buzzard and Kestrel – the latter mobbing the former

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A0825Goshawk – this juvenile circled up over lunchtime

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

IMG_2664Hawfinch – feeding down in the leaf little from the gate

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

IMG_2728

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2746Common Crossbill – a bright red male

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

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

6O0A0974Siskin – this male almost landed at our feet

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

 

24th Mar 2017 – Brrr Brecks

A Private Tour today, down to the Brecks. The weather was good, dry and mostly bright with blue sky at times, but there was a nagging, blustery NE wind with a real chill to it – it didn’t feel like spring at times today!

It was an early start this morning at Santon Downham. We hoped to find Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, even though they have been rather more elusive in recent days in the wind. As we got to the bridge, a couple of Kingfishers shot off upstream in a flash of electric blue. We could hear one or two Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming in the poplars. They have not been very obvious in recent days, so we thought this might be a good sign.

There were lots of finches along the river as usual, mostly Siskins and Redpolls buzzing around overhead. A Hawfinch was calling as we walked along the river, but we couldn’t see where the sound was coming from before it stopped. A Water Rail squealed at us from the reeds as we passed. We could hear Mandarin calling and looked over the river to see four chasing each other round in a tight group.

6O0A0706Nuthatch – very noisy down along the river at the moment

When we got to the area favoured by the woodpeckers, we stopped and listened for a while. The Nuthatches were being very noisy, piping away up in the trees. When a couple of Great Tits came in to investigate the hole in the tree, the Nuthatches quickly chased them away. There were several Green Woodpeckers calling too, but no sign of the Lesser Spotteds this morning. Perhaps it was just too cold and windy for them again today?

There was a backdrop of constant chattering of Redpolls as we stood and waited on the river bank. For most of the time, we couldn’t see them, as they were down in the sallows at the back of the trees. Periodically, a small group would fly round. Eventually, three landed in an alder tree where we could get them in the scope, confirming they were Lesser Redpolls, including a nice pinky-red breasted male.

A pair of Grey Wagtails kept us company. They were feeding around a tree which had fallen across the river, gathering a mat of water weed and associated plastic bottles around its branches which seemed to be providing them with food. The male was singing on and off while it fed.

6O0A0719Grey Wagtail – a pair were feeding around a tree which has fallen across the river

A Common Lizard had found a log in the morning sunshine on which to bask. At low level, it was probably protected from the chill of the wind. Eventually, we decided to call it a day here and move on to try our luck elsewhere.

6O0A0731Common Lizard – basking in the sunshine

Our next target for the morning was Goshawk. We made our way to a suitable spot overlooking the Forest and waited. It had clouded over a bit more now and, coupled with the biting wind, it seemed there was not much thermal activity for raptors to enjoy. A Red Kite circled in the distance and a few Common Buzzards were making the most of the breeze.

A scan of the stoney field behind us and we quickly located a single Stone Curlew. Through the scope it looked slightly prehistoric, with its yellow iris and yellow-based bill. It was very well camouflaged against the stones and, when it walked into a hollow and sat down, it completely disappeared from view.

IMG_2509Stone Curlew – looking distinctly prehistoric

A commotion behind us attracted our attention, as a large cloud of Rooks and Jackdaws seemed to get spooked from the field and took off calling. As we looked round, we then saw a dozen Woodpigeons burst out of the trees beyond. The next thing we knew, we were looking at a juvenile Goshawk flying through the pandemonium it had just caused.

The Goshawk didn’t seemed to be hunting, perhaps it was just enjoying itself. It circled round, through the panicking flocks, then gradually gained height and embarked on a long glide over the other side and down behind the trees. Then it all seemed to go a bit quiet again, even the Buzzard activity tailed off. We decided to go somewhere else.

We parked on the edge of Drymere and set off to walk down along the ride to look for the Great Grey Shrike.  However, we hadn’t gone very far when we heard a Woodlark singing. We looked across and could see it perched in a small oak tree. As we walked round to get a better look at it, it took off and fluttered up, disappearing away over the clearing, singing. A second Woodlark started singing too, from the ground behind us.

While we stood and listened to the two of them, the first Woodlark flew back in and landed on the ground in front of us, before flying back up into the oak tree. This time we were in the perfect position to get it in the scope and get a really good look at it.

IMG_2524Woodlark – perched in the branches of a small oak, singing

It didn’t take us long to find the Great Grey Shrike next, in its favoured plantation. It stood out like a sore thumb against the dark green of the young pines. It was perched in the top of a young deciduous tree in one of the old stump rows, so we made our way round to the other side of the plantation where we had the sun behind us, and got it in the scope.

IMG_2558Great Grey Shrike – in its usual place this morning

When it dropped down, presumably looking for prey, we lost sight of the Great Grey Shrike. We had a walk round the Plantation to see if it had gone round to the other side, but it wasn’t there. Presumably, it had simply found a sheltered spot out of sight amongst the trees. We had enjoyed a good view before it disappeared, so we decided to leave it to it.

We stopped for lunch overlooking the Forest, to see if there was any more Goshawk action. Despite the skies having cleared, and there being a few more Buzzards up again now, there was no further sign. So once we had eaten, we packed up and headed round to Lynford Arboretum for the afternoon.

As we walked up along the path, we could see a small crowd gathered by the gate. It appeared that the Hawfinches had been coming down to feed in the leaf litter. We could hear them calling from up in the trees, but unfortunately before we could see them, a noisy quad bike was driven round under the trees and two Hawfinches flew out. We saw them go up into the top of the trees just beyond the chicken run, but by the time we got over there, they flew again, dropping down and away, out of sight.

We stood and waited, looking at the trees and listening, for a few minutes. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long before a female Hawfinch flew back in. It landed in the tops of the trees above the feeders, just long enough for us to get it in the scope and for everyone to have a quick look, before dropping down towards the ground. We walked back to the gate, hoping we would be able to see it from there, but there was no sign of anything in the leaf litter. We could hear it calling, but couldn’t see it in the trees either. After a few minutes, the quad bike did another circuit under the trees and the Hawfinch flew off, disappearing away over the Arboretum.

IMG_2560Brambling – several came down to drink from the gate

There were some other nice birds to see from the gate. Several Bramblings dropped down from the trees to drink, and one or two stopped to feed in the leaves at one point. A Redwing was feeding on some ivy berries, before it too came down for a drink in the small stone trough. However, it seemed like there was just too much disturbance at the moment for the Hawfinches, with the quad bike making regular circuits.

IMG_2571Redwing – came down to drink too

We made our way down to the bridge, thinking we could have another look for the Hawfinches later. The walk down the hill was rather quiet – there were not the numbers of finches feeding in the pines today. Down at the bridge there was more activity. Several birds were coming and going, darting in to grab some of the food put out for them in the pillars. Most notably, there were a couple of Nuthatches and two Marsh Tits.

6O0A0750Marsh Tit – coming to the food put out at the bridge

There was no sign of any Common Crossbills around the bridge at first today, so we decided to go for a walk round and come back for another go later. We had a quick look at the Long-tailed Tit nest. It was hard to see if it was occupied today, although there seemed to be feathers inside which were possibly attached to a bird!

6O0A0741Long-tailed Tit nest – probably occupied by a Long-tailed Tit

A quick walk round by the lake added a few ducks and geese to the days list. In addition to the usual two pairs of Canada Geese, a couple of Greylag Geese were on the lawn in front of the Hall. On the water, the ducks included two pairs of Gadwall, a couple of pairs of Mallard and some of their domesticated cousins, plus a pair of Tufted Ducks. We could hear a Little Grebe laughing maniacally at us.

We continued on past the lake and down the path. A Treecreeper called and appeared in a tree above us. A Goldcrest came out onto the edge of a yew tree in the sunshine. There were more tits and Nuthatches down here too. As we turned to come back, we heard a Common Crossbill calling and looked up into the poplars to see a stunning red male catching the afternoon sunshine. We got it in the scope and watched it for a while. When it eventually moved, it flew down and chased a second Crossbill, presumably a female, out of the branches.

Back at the bridge, there was still lots of activity. This time, a smart male Reed Bunting had appeared and was feeding on the seed.

6O0A0792Reed Bunting – feeding on the seed at the bridge

When we heard more Crossbills calling here, we looked up into the trees, in time to see a small family party appear in the alders above us. The streaky brown juvenile Crossbill was begging and we watched as the orangey male fed it, regurgitating half digested seed for it. The green/yellow female perched in the tree nearby. After a while, the three of them flew down to a small pool in the grass for a drink, before disappearing back up into the trees.

6O0A0754Crossbill – the streaky brown juvenile begging for food from the male

It was great to get such good views of Crossbills, but with the afternoon getting on now, we thought we would head back up towards the Arboretum and have another go with the Hawfinches. As we walked back back up towards the gate and the feeders, we could hear a Hawfinch calling, but by the time we got there it seemed to have gone quiet. We were still standing scanning the trees, when someone kindly waved to us from the gate to say that a Hawfinch was down on the ground.

We hurried over to find a smart male Hawfinch feeding in the leaf litter on the edge of the trees. Through the scope, we could see its enormous bill as it crunched on seeds.

IMG_2597Hawfinch – a male, feeding on seeds around the base of the trees

We watched the Hawfinch for a few minutes, feeding quietly around the base of the trees. It was a great view, great to see one on the ground. Then something spooked it, and it flew up into the trees. We waited a few minutes to see if it would come back, but then the quad bike did another noisy pass through the trees, and it seemed like we would be pushing our luck to hope for another appearance. It was a great way to end the day – with such a good look at the Hawfinch. We decided to call it a day and made our way back to the car.

 

22nd Mar 2017 – More Brecks Birding

A Private Tour in the Brecks today. It was forecast to be a day of two halves – dry in the morning, but with increasing risk of rain in the afternoon. We set out to make the most of the weather while it lasted.

Our first stop was at Santon Downham. It was rather cold and breezy again today down by the river. The Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers have become rather elusive in the last few days, perhaps not a surprise given the weather, which has felt a little like a return to winter. Still, the group were keen to have a go anyway, and there are often lots of other things to see along here. It turned out to be a good call.

As we walked along the path, we could hear Mandarin calling and looked ahead to see a pair flying towards us along the river. They landed a short distance in front of us, partly hidden behind the bushes, but then swam towards us. The female led the way, followed by the drake, which had puffed up its head and neck feathers and kept craning its neck up and forward, displaying to her.

6O0A0558Mandarin – this pair were displaying along the river

When the female Mandarin was just opposite us on the river, she stopped and the male quickly caught up. He started to swim round her, at which point she stretched out her neck and put the tip of her bill into the water. This was an invitation to the male to say that she was receptive and after a few seconds looking at us nervously, he started to mate with her – not something you see very often, Mandarins mating!

6O0A0574Mandarin – the pair then started mating

A little further along the path, we could see ripples out in the middle of the river some way ahead of us. A quick look through binoculars and we caught sight of an Otter just as it dived. We made our way quickly and quietly towards the area it had been. When we got there, we stopped for another scan and could just see movement through the undergrowth at the base of an alder tree on the near bank – an Otter cub was resting on the shore. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it clearly, given all the vegetation, and after a few seconds an adult Otter joined it and the two of them swam quietly off away from us.

6O0A0621Otter – the cub, resting on the branch of a fallen tree in the river

Thankfully, the two Otters stopped again where a large tree had fallen across the river further downstream, by the opposite bank. This time, we could see the cub more clearly, standing on a mat of floating vegetation trapped among the branches. We walked up until we were directly across from it and realised the adult Otter was diving repeatedly in amongst all the branches, presumably looking for food. It noticed we were watching and stopped to look at us several times when it surfaced.

6O0A0597Otter – the adult kept surfacing and stopping to look at us

There were a couple of Mute Swans building a platform in amongst the branches too, and whenever the adult Otter surfaced next to them the male swan would hiss and crane its neck towards it. Eventually, the adult Otter seemed to lose interest in us and started feeding under a mat of floating vegetation over by the far bank the other side of the fallen tree. Eventually, the cub came out to join it, and pulled itself out onto another log nearby, in full view.

6O0A0642Otter – the cub pulled itself out onto a floating log

We watched the Otters, fascinated, for several minutes. At one point, they were joined by a pair of Grey Wagtails, which flew in and landed on the same fallen tree. Eventually the Otters disappeared under some overhanging vegetation on the far side, so we left them to it and continued on our walk.

There were lots of Bramblings, Siskins and Redpolls whizzing about overhead in ones and twos all the time as we walked along beside the river, but it was hard to see any stopped still at first. That was because they were mostly hiding down in the sallows. Only when something spooked them did we realise how many were there – at least 70 flew up from the trees. Finally, we spotted two Lesser Redpolls perched in an alder tree and got them in the scope – one was a smart male with a pinkish red wash over its breast.

There was comparatively little woodpecker activity along the river today. We heard several Green Woodpeckers calling and managed to see a couple – one which landed high in a tree directly above our heads and another more obligingly on a large dead tree in front of us. However, we only heard one Great Spotted Woodpecker call briefly. The Nuthatches were not put off by the cooler weather, and several were piping loudly from the trees.

It had been well worth the walk here this morning, but we had other things we wanted to do today. We set off to walk back, stopping to look at a Honey Bee nest in a tree on the way. It looked like something had tried to open up the nest and we could see the honeycomb inside and the bees coming and going. While we were admiring the bees, a Siskin came down to drink in the ditch nearby.

6O0A0649Siskin – came down for a drink

The weather had also just brightened up a bit, so we made our way over to a site to look for Goshawks next. As soon as we arrived and had our first scan over the Forest, we spotted our first Goshawk up, but it was very distant. At least it was a good sign, that the birds were active despite the cold wind. There were several Common Buzzards enjoying the breeze here too, and a couple of Red Kites.

While we were waiting for more Goshawk action, we had a closer look at the field behind us. We were soon rewarded with two Stone Curlews. They were very well camouflaged, hidden in among the flints in the field – one was sitting tight, but the other had its head up and we could see its staring eye with bright yellow iris and the distinctive yellow-based bill.

IMG_2494Stone Curlew – one of two, hiding in a stoney field

There were also a few Lapwing and Skylarks in the field too. A flock of Fieldfares flew in and landed among the stones. They are on the move now, heading back towards Scandinavia for the breeding season.

It wasn’t too long to wait before another Goshawk appeared. It came in low over the trees, towards us, disappearing behind the tops before coming back up again. It appeared to be a young bird, a juvenile born last year, and a female too from the size of it. When it got to a block of taller trees, it started to gain a little more height and even broke into a quick burst of display, flying slowly, with exaggerated, deep wing beats. This prompted a second Goshawk to emerge from the trees, noticeably smaller than the first, an adult male. Just its presence seemed to encourage the youngster to move off today and the two of them disappeared back over the trees and away.

6O0A0659Goshawk – this juvenile female was displaying briefly

Given the cold wind, it was good to get such a nice view of a couple of Goshawks. It all seemed to go a little quiet after that. The clouds thickened again and even the Buzzard activity dropped off. We decided to move on.

Our next stop was at Cockley Cley. As we parked, we could see a large mixed flock of finches in the trees above the car park – Bramblings, Siskins, Lesser Redpolls, Goldfinch and Chaffinch. However, the clearing opposite was quiet, with no sound of Woodlark singing at first today.

We set off along the ride to look for the Great Grey Shrike which has been here for several weeks now. On our way down, we met some people walking back who said it was still present, although had flown off across the clearing. When we got to the clearing it has been favouring, however, there was no sign of it and several people milling around looking lost. We decided to have a quiet walk round to a more sheltered area and were soon watching the Great Grey Shrike hiding in a plantation of young pine trees, out of the wind.

IMG_2401Great Grey Shrike – found a sheltered spot out of the wind today

We found an angle where we could get a clear view of the Great Grey Shrike and got it in the scope. We could see the hooked tip to the bill clearly. It was looking around all the time, presumably trying to spot some prey, but perhaps it was harder going today, with a lack of wasps, beetles or lizards out and about.

It started to spit with rain now, so we made our way back towards the car. On the way, we walked carefully round the edge of one of the other clearings and were rewarded with a couple of Woodlarks. The first we spotted walking quietly through the grass, but just as we tried to get the scope onto it, it flew up and started singing, fluttering away and landing much further over. Thankfully, that stimulated a second Woodlark to start singing a little further along and that one we were able to get a better look at, perched on the top of a tussock for a minute or so, before it dropped back down into the vegetation out of view.

While we ate lunch back in the warmth of the car, it started to rain a little harder. After lunch, we drove round to Lynford Arboretum and thankfully the rain had eased again by the time we got there. Walking across the road from the car park, we heard a Firecrest singing, but we couldn’t find it and it immediately went quiet again.

The area under the trees by the feeders looked rather quiet today, but a quick stop here was rewarded with lovely close views of a Treecreeper. There were not so many finches feeding down in the leaves though. We could hear Hawfinches calling in the trees, so we walked a little further along.

At first, the Hawfinches gave us the run around – one calling in the top of a fir tree in the Arboretum flew off just as we tracked it down, and a couple of others were hiding deep in the trees behind the chicken run. Eventually we saw a Hawfinch land high in the trees above the feeders and just had time to get it in the scope so everyone could have a look at it, before it flew off, closely followed by two more. It seemed they might be put off by the rain – at least it wasn’t raining hard now, but it was damp and spitting. There were several Redwings perched around in the treetops too.

IMG_2417Hawfinch – perched in the top of the trees calling briefly

We could still hear Hawfinches calling further along the path, so followed the sound. They seemed to be gathering up in the tops of the pine trees today, based on all the calls we could hear. Standing underneath, we got the odd glimpse, but they are hard to see when in here. The pine cones are opening at the moment, so there is a bountiful supply of seed easily available – presumably the Hawfinches were helping themselves with all the others.

There were lots of other finches in the pines too. When the birds spooked occasionally, a large flock of finches burst from the trees, mainly Bramblings and Siskins. Several of the Bramblings landed in a large deciduous bush on the edge of the pines. As we stopped to look at them here, we found two Bullfinches in the same bush too, including a smart pink male, feeding on the buds.

6O0A0687Brambling – feeding mostly in the pines today

As we walked down the hill towards the bridge, we could still hear more Hawfinches calling. We managed to find one, perched high in a deciduous tree, but half hidden behind a branch. Then a second flew in, a bright male, which perched out more obligingly for us. Another large finch in the tops of the trees here was a streaky juvenile Common Crossbill. Through the scope we could see its not yet fully grown crossed mandibles.

IMG_2462Hawfinch – perched up obligingly for us as we walked down towards the bridge

Despite there being some food out for the birds here, it was rather quiet again down at the bridge, perhaps due to the weather. A Reed Bunting was the only bird of note. We walked down to the paddocks, but there was no sign of any Crossbills here on our way past, and none feeding in the pines by the path today. A Marsh Tit called and perched up obligingly in the hedge, giving us a good chance to note the distinguishing features which set it apart from Coal Tit, which we had seen just a few seconds earlier.

We did make our way over to admire the Long-tailed Tit nest again, now complete and occupied – we could just see some black and white feathers of a Long-tailed Tit curled up inside.

6O0A0691Long-tailed Tit nest – now complete and fully occupied

As we walked back towards the bridge, we could hear a Common Crossbill calling as it flew towards us across the paddocks. It landed in the top of a small tree just in front of us, just long enough for everyone to get a look at it in the scope. It was a very smart, deep red male. Then it flew up into the tops of the poplars, where it was joined by several more Crossbills.

From the bridge, we could get a great view of the Crossbills. We got a male in the scope again and watched it preening. There were also several more streaky juveniles here. However, at this point the rain started to spit a little stronger, and we decided to start making our way back.

IMG_2469Crossbill – this male was preening just above us at the bridge

It was already late afternoon by this stage, and we were lucky that the rain had not been too bad until this point – it certainly had not significantly adversely affected our visit to the Arboretum, or the birds we had seen. We had enjoyed great views of Hawfinch and Crossbill here as usual. As we got back to the car park, the rain seemed to be easing once more, but it was time to call it a day. A Firecrest was singing from the top of a fir tree, but a Goldcrest was more obliging, fluttering around lower down in a pine above the car park. It was a nice way to end the day.