Tag Archives: Firecrest

14th Oct 2020 – Private Autumn Day Tour

A Private Autumn single day tour in North Norfolk today. It was mostly cloudy today but mostly dry – we managed to largely dodge the showers, particularly in the afternoon. A brisk NE wind held lots of promise for migrants coming in from the continent.

Our first destination for the morning was Wells. Walking in towards the woods from the beach car park, we could see several Little Grebes on the Boating Lake as usual and a few Coot and Mallard to get the day’s list started.

Little Grebe – there were several on the boating lake as usual this morning

As soon as we got into the birches, we found our first tit flock. There were lots of birds flitting around in the trees overhead – Long-tailed Tits, Blue and Coal Tit, Goldcrests and a Treecreeper. Small groups of Redwings flew back and forth overhead and we could hear their teezing calls.

Walking round the north side of the Dell, we flushed more Redwings and several Blackbirds from the bottom, under the trees. We cut across the middle, over the main track and out into the more open area the other side. There were loads of Redwings here too, feeding on berries in the bushes and out on the grass on the grazing marshes beyond. Looking through them, we managed to find one or two Song Thrushes as well. There had clearly been a big arrival of thrushes here in the last 24 hours, mainly Redwings, coming here from Scandinavia for the winter.

Redwing – there had been a big arrival in the last 24 hours

A couple of Marsh Harriers were flying round over the grazing marshes beyond, a juvenile with bright red wing tags (unfortunately too far away to read the identifying code), and an adult female with much more pale creamy colouring on the leading edge of the wings. Two Red Kites were hanging in the air over the trees in the Park at the back.

The Marsh Harriers kept flushing all the ducks from the grazing marshes, the flocks Wigeon and Teal flying round before settling again around the pools. There were a few Curlew and Lapwing, and several Pied Wagtails out on the wet grass too.

Small groups of Redpolls kept flying back and forth overhead calling while we were scanning the grazing marshes and as we walked on a little further a few flew in and landed in the top of a large birch tree in front of us. We had a much better view of them now, and got one or two in the scope, admiring the red ‘polls’ on their foreheads and black chin patches. These birds looked rather small and brown, Lesser Redpolls. More dropped in to join them and others flew out – there was lots of coming and going.

Lesser Redpoll – several landed in the birches

Continuing round, two Sparrowhawks were up over the pines in the distance, chased by two Carrion Crows, swooping in and out of the treetops. Two male Blackcaps popped up in the top of a large clump of Hawthorn and briar.

Back out on the main track, there were lots of Goldcrests in the birches, as we caught the tail end of another tit flock as it disappeared into the pines. There was nothing of note in the bushes round the Drinking Pool but a couple of Bramblings were calling in the pines and we had a fleeting view high in the trees and then saw one of them flying off.

Goldcrest – there were lots of exhausted migrants in today

Continuing west on the main track, we stopped to watch some more Goldcrests feeding in some sycamores right by the path. We had some great views of them, down at eye level. While they do breed here, numbers are swollen in autumn by arrivals from the continent. We marvelled at how these tiny birds weighing no more than a 20p coin, can manage to fly all the way across the North Sea. When they arrive they are not surprisingly exhausted and hungry and therefore very confiding.

We were just in the process of discussing how you might tell a Firecrest from a Goldcrest when we had a shout from a friend deeper in the trees in front of us that he had just found one! It was very active, flitting around in the oaks, and hard to see. We had a few quick glimpses and then lost track of it. While we were looking round in the trees for the Firecrest, a Yellow-browed Warbler appeared too, but again we only managed frustratingly brief views of it before we lost track of it.

The Goldcrests seemed to be working their way slowly east through the trees, so we walked back out onto the track and followed them. We could hear more wheezy calls from Bramblings a little further along and walked back where a smart male finally gave itself up nicely in some birches, turning round and showing off its bright orange breast and shoulders.

Brambling – this male gave itself up in the birches by the track

There were no Goldcrests this far down – we seemed to have overshot the flock – so we walked back a few metres until we found them again. Suddenly out popped a boldly marked head low in an oak tree right in front of us, like a rather like Goldcrest but with additional stripes, black through the eye and a striking white supercilium above. It was the Firecrest and we had great views of it now as it performed in front of our eyes.

Firecrest – reappeared low in an oak tree right in front of us

We continued to follow the Goldcrests and we were rewarded again when the Yellow-browed Warbler reappeared in a small sycamore beside the track. It fed here for a couple of minutes now, giving us the chance to get a better look at its stripes, a striking yellowish supercilium and double wing bars.

Having enjoyed great views of Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler, we decided to start walking back. There was a report of some other birds in the open area by the Dell now, so we cut back in and walked slowly in through the grass and round the brambles and hawthorns.

A Lesser Whitethroat flicked out ahead of us, and we watched it feeding in the brambles. At this time of year, they are mainly ‘Eastern’ Lesser Whitethroats passing through, birds of the race blythi, also known as Siberian Lesser Whitethroats and coming to us from much further east. Sure enough, this was an Eastern Lesser Whitethroat, with the brown of the mantle continuing as a shawl up over the back of the head. We could hear its quiet tacking calls as it worked its way round.

Eastern Lesser Whitethroat – of the race blythi

We found a smart male Bullfinch in the brambles too, and still lots of Redwings and Redpolls, but no sign of the Redstart now which was seen here earlier. As we made our way back to the main track, a couple of Redpolls flew in and landed briefly in the hawthorns ahead of us. A flash of a streaky but pale rump on one indicated it was a Mealy Redpoll, the flammea race of Common Redpoll which comes here from Scandinavia in the autumn.

Cutting back in round the east side of the Dell, we had another look in the birches on our way back to the car park. Several Blackcaps flitted ahead of us and a couple of Bullfinches were in the brambles. There was a tit flock in the trees here again, the light was better this time. We spent some time looking through them – lots of Goldcrests but nothing more unusual.

Back out to the car park, we picked up lunch and walked over to the harbour. Up on the seawall, we ate our lunch while we scanned the channel and the mud and sands opposite. There were a few Cormorants diving in the channel itself and a couple of closer Brent Geese on the far side. We could see lots more Brent Geese further out on the sands and they started to fly back in past us and back into the harbour, presumably to feed.

Brent Geese – flying in past us along the harbour channel

The waders were rather distant at first here today, right up on the back of the mud towards East Hills. Through the scope, we could see lots of Knot, together with several Dunlin and Turnstones. A couple of Ringed Plover were well camouflaged on one of the patches of shingle. There was a scattering of Curlew and a good number of Oystercatchers here too.

A dark shape hunched right out on the middle of the sands, as we thought it might, resolved itself into a Peregrine through the scope, loafing out on a sand bar. Presumably it had been hunting the waders and had stopped for a rest.

So when something flushed all the Knot, we thought at first the Peregrine might be the culprit, but it was still on the sand in the same place. We watched as the Knot whirled round in a tight flock, back and forth, twisting and turning, flashing grey and white. Four larger birds with them were Bar-tailed Godwits. All of them landed together on the edge of the channel, giving us a much better view, the godwits squabbling in the shallow water.

We stopped at the beach cafe for a welcome hot drink. We had a few possible options for the afternoon, but there had been a small number of Pallas’s Warblers appearing along the coast this morning and we thought we would try for the one which had been reported already several times, out at Burnham Overy Dunes. We parked in the car park at the staithe, and walked out along the seawall, hoping to pick up a few waders en route.

Curlew – feeding on the edge of the harbour channel

A close Curlew was feeding down on the near edge of the harbour channel as we set off and more were out on the grazing meadows the other side. Our attention was caught by three Moorhen just beyond the ditch. Two seemed to be fighting, one pinned down by the other, while the third looked on. When the fighting birds separated, one tried to run off but was chased all the way along the bank by the other, pecking at its heels. The third ran along too a few seconds later, not wanting to be left behind.

There were a couple of Grey Plovers down beside the harbour channel further along and two Ringed Plovers out on the sandbank in the middle, along with a few Brent Geese and Wigeon. Looking out over the saltmarsh beyond, we could see a few white shapes, which were all Little Egrets.

Grey Plover – on the edge of the harbour channel

Past the corner on the seawall, there were lots of Dunlin on the open muddy inlet, along with a couple more Ringed Plover, and lots of Redshanks too. A Stonechat perched up briefly on the brambles.

The cattle were rather distant today, out in the middle of the grazing marshes looking over towards Holkham. We did see a few white birds flying round amongst them, at least three Cattle Egrets, but they kept landing out of view behind a line of reeds. The large flock of Golden Plover out on the saltmarsh was very well camouflaged against the other burnt colours of autumn vegetation.

When we got out to the boardwalk, we turned west to walk out to Gun Hill. We had already been told that the Pallas’s Warbler had not been seen again, for at least the last couple of hours, but we thought we should try our luck anyway. We flushed yet more Redwings from the bushes on the way and there were more Goldcrests in the low privet and bramble out in the dunes. The Goldcrests were unbelievably tame – just arrived over the North Sea, exhausted, they simply have to feed and have no time to worry about people. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find any sign of the Pallas’s Warbler here.

We climbed up onto the higher dunes to look out over the beach. There were lots of Cormorants drying their wings on the sandbank at the entrance to the channel, and a single Sanderling running along the shoreline nearby.

After a sit down, it was time to start walking back. We had a better view of the Cattle Egrets on the return journey. We got a couple in the scope, feeding in between the legs of the cows, and managed to count at least seven out there now. They were still rather distant though, out on the grazing marshes.

As we drove back east, we stopped briefly at Holkham. There were lots of Cormorants loafing in the trees, presumably getting ready to roost. The first Great White Egret was out on a small pool on the grazing marsh. Then we found a second in with the Belted Galloway cows along with a Grey Heron (they probably had an identity crisis and thought they were Cattle Egrets too!). A third Great White Egret appeared further back, and with a bit of careful scanning we found a fourth away in the distance.

Great White Egret – in with the cows along with a Grey Heron

That would have been more than enough, but what may have been a fifth Great White Egret flew in just as we were packing up. This is another species which has colonised in a remarkably short space of time, and gone from being rare to not uncommon now. A couple of Marsh Harriers were circling over the near edge of the marshes, presumably getting ready to go to roost. Unfortunately it was time for us to call it a day too.

6th Mar 2020 – Winter, Brecks & Goshawks, Day 1

Day 1 of our three day Winter, Brecks & Goshawks tour today. We were lucky with the weather, mostly bright with sunny intervals and a light N wind, although there was a chill in the air. We spent the day down in The Brecks.

It was a slow journey down this morning, stuck first behind a tractor and then behind a very slow-moving lorry and with a road closure to contend with first thing too. So we were a little later than planned when we arrived at the car park in Santon Downham. A Greenfinch was wheezing in the trees as we got out of the minibus. A Coal Tit was singing down by the road as we walked towards the bridge, but there was no food in the feeders by the road so few birds in the gardens.

As we set off along the path by the river, a Grey Wagtail flew over calling. We could hear a Woodlark singing further back too, and several Siskins overhead. A Reed Bunting flew up and landed in the sallows by the path. We were hoping to find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker this morning, but the small crowd gathered on the bank told us that there had been no sign for at least the last 1 1/2 hours. We stood with them for a while, but with nothing doing here, we decided to walk on a little further.

Our efforts were instantly rewarded with the distinctive ‘kee,kee,kee’ call of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker from deeper in the trees. We stopped and scanned but couldn’t see anything and while we were listening to try to hear it again we received a message to say what was presumably the same bird had flown in back where we had been standing earlier. We hurried back, but the first people we got to had lost sight of it, and then next thing we knew it flew out of the tree tops and over our heads, disappearing into the sun across the river.

There was lots of action in the alders across the river, loads of Siskins and Redwings singing. We could see quite a few Redwings flying around lower down in the trees and got one in the scope. A female Mandarin was hiding in amongst the bottom of the trees, where the river had flooded over. But we couldn’t see any sign of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker now.

We waited a while to see if it might come back. We could hear a Marsh Tit singing and the piping calls of several Nuthatches which we saw flying in and out of the trees, above our heads. A Kingfisher shot past upstream. We were just about to leave when we heard the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker again, drumming from deeper in the trees further along and back on our side of the river. But it went quiet again and despite waiting another 15 minutes, it didn’t show itself again.

As we walked back, a Muntjac was grazing on the bank beyond the bridge. We took the path up through the trees towards the churchyard, where a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling in the trees and we could see it against the sky.

There had been a Firecrest in the churchyard earlier, but we met some other locals there who hadn’t seen it. We had just stopped to talk to them when we saw a small bird fly in to the sunny edge of trees. The Firecrest! It was low down in a box bush, at about eye level, and gave some great views as it flitted in and out of the branches. The light was perfect too and its bright golden yellow crown stripe was shining in the sun.

Firecrest

Firecrest – showed very well in the churchyard

The Firecrest flew across and landed in a conifer in the corner of the churchyard closest to us. We could see the striking black and white striped face pattern which distinguishes Firecrest from its close cousin, the Goldcrest.

With that target secured so easily, we decided to make our way back to the car park and head off for lunch. When we got out to the road, we noticed a bat flying round, in and out of the trees on the green opposite. Not what we expect to see in the middle of the day in early March! It appeared as if it might have prominent ‘ears’ as it zipped around overhead, but looking at the blurry photos afterwards they were not as obvious, and it was most like a Pipistrelle sp.

We made our way round to Brandon for lunch. There were lots of tits coming and going from the feeders as we ate out in the picnic tables in the sunshine, and a Nuthatch calling in the trees. Afterwards, we made our way down to the lake. A pair of Mandarin Ducks were loafing on the ledge of the duck house but it was hard to get a clear angle on them through the reeds. Thankfully, there was another pair over the far side, out of the reeds along the edge. We walked round and, predictably, they swam straight over to where we had just been, but then more helpfully came out into the open for us as we got back round.

Mandarin

Mandarin – a very smart drake on the lake

Our destination for the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. We met someone in the car park who told us the Hawfinches were showing very well in the paddocks, so we headed straight down there to make sure we caught up with them, in case they flew off. Thankfully, several of the Hawfinches were still feeding in the grass below one of the hornbeams out in the middle and we quickly got the scopes on them and admired their enormous, cherry-stone-cracking bills.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – feeding in the grass below the trees in the paddocks

It was hard to tell how many Hawfinches there were down on the ground here, but we counted at least four, including a couple of very smart, bright, richly coloured males. We could see several Chaffinches feeding with them. There were also a couple of Mistle Thrushes and several Redwings feeding out on the grass beyond, so we got the scopes on those too.

When something spooked all the birds from under the trees, they flew up and across to the next tree over. We walked up to the next gap in the hedge and got the scope on a couple of Hawfinches perched up in the branches in the sunshine. We could see at least three there when another five flew into the back of the same tree, making at least eight Hawfinches in total.

Having enjoyed some great views of the Hawfinches, we made our way back to the bridge. There was some seed spread out on the tops of the pillars, which we had topped up on our way past earlier. There was a steady stream of tits coming and going, and we had some great views of Marsh Tits here, as usual.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming in to the seed put out on the bridge

There were lots of Siskins flying in and out of the trees above the bridge here too. We watched a Treecreeper climbing up the trunks of the alders opposite, before flying down to the base of the next one and starting again. A Nuthatch in the trees wouldn’t come in to the food today – probably put off by a combination of all of us standing on the bridge and a couple of photographers stood very close to the pillars.

We could hear Little Grebes cackling at us from the lake behind us, so after watching the comings and goings at the bridge for a bit, we had a short walk round on the path. We found one of the Little Grebes, hiding in the edge of the reeds. There were several pairs of Gadwall out on the water too, and a mixture of Canada Geese and Greylags squabbling with each other on the lawns behind the Hall. A Great Spotted Woodpecker posed nicely in the top of a tree on the far side of the lake and we had some much better views of several Siskins in the alders along the path.

Siskin

Siskin – showing well in the alders by the lake

Back over the bridge to the Arboretum, the Tawny Owls were in their usual tree, the two of them roosting side by side high in the spruce tree today. We had a look at them from the path, where they were very difficult to see until you knew where you were looking, and then got some better views from the other side.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – the two were roosting side by side in the usual tree today

Walking back up along the path through the arboretum, we stopped again at the gate. The feeders are still empty but there was not much seed on the ground either today. Consequently, there were fewer birds than normal coming and going. One or two Yellowhammers dropped down briefly, but we found more of them in the bushes on the edge of the orchard the other side, perched in the white blossom and dropping down into the long grass between the fruit trees.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – mostly in the trees on the edge of the orchard today

A Brambling dropped down to the pool in front of the gate for a drink and then perched briefly on a branch above. But it flew off before everyone could get onto it. We thought that was it before more appeared higher up in the beech trees and we all got a good look at one or two. There have been very few here this winter – probably they have stayed on the continent this year.

We still had just enough time for a quick look at the gravel pits.  There were several Tufted Ducks, a pair of Great Crested Grebes, and more geese on the first one we checked. A drake Wigeon asleep in the grass at the back was more of a surprise here and a welcome bonus on today’s list. On the pit the other side, a Coot was in with the Tufted Ducks, another Great Crested Grebe was closer in on the edge of the reeds, and a distant Cormorant was busy diving over at the back.

It had been a good start to the tour today, but it was now time to head for home, with a bonus couple of Barn Owls out hunting on the way. We would be back down for more in the Brecks tomorrow!

18th June 2019 – East to West & back

A Private Tour today in North Norfolk. It was a mostly bright and sunny day with patchy high cloud, until later in the day when a band of rain spread in, thankfully just as we were finishing up. We had a particular target list of species for the day, which saw us working the coast from end to end.

We met in Salthouse and headed inland, up to the heath to start. We really wanted to see Dartford Warbler, but with the population here seemingly struggling this year, we knew it would be difficult. As we arrived in the car park, we could hear Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing. Walking up along the path, several Linnets flew round over the gorse and we heard a Yellowhammer singing. There has been a Woodlark feeding in the area here, but there was no sign of it as we passed.

There were lots of butterflies out this morning. There are still plenty of Painted Ladys around, following the invasion in recent days, although some of them are starting to look a bit battered now. The Silver-studded Blues have been slow to emerge this year, but are now out in increasing numbers. We also flushed several July Belle moths from the vegetation by the paths too, today.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady – some are now starting to look a little battered

We thought we would try our luck again and see if the Nightjar we had found the other day was roosting back on the same perch today, but unsurprisingly there was no sign of it. However, as we walked back round to the main path, we accidentally flushed another Nightjar from its roosting site hidden down in the bracken. It was a male, we could see its white wing flashes and corners to its tail as it flew up and disappeared into the trees.

Continuing on round the heath, we found several Stonechats, but no Dartford Warblers. An alarm calling family of Common Whitethroats was the closest we got. An Adder, basking on the path, slithered off into the heather as we approached. We flushed a pair of Yellowhammers collecting food in the gorse and bracken.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – a female, collecting food in the gorse and bracken

A Woodlark was reported singing earlier from back up where we had looked by the car park on our way out, so we decided to have a look for that instead. A Garden Warbler was singing from the birches on our way back, but despite walking all round the area where the Woodlark had been, there was no sign of it now. We decided to cut our losses and try something else.

Firecrest was the nest species on the list, so we headed over to Holt Country Park. We were not sure whether the Firecrests would be singing now, but as we were trying to pay for a parking ticket at the faulty pay & display ticket machine, we heard one singing from the trees behind us. Once we had gathered in the car park to listen, it had gone quiet, but thankfully then started up again closer to the road after a few minutes. We followed the sound and had some good views of it flitting around in the ivy-covered trees. We could see its bold white supercilium. A Goldcrest was singing nearby too.

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing in the ivy-covered trees

We were back on track now, and with our target here achieved so quickly, we had time to sit down and get a coffee at the cafe. A Siskin flew over calling while we were enjoying the morning sunshine.

From Holt, we had a long drive all the way over to the opposite end of the coast to look for Turtle Doves. We parked on the beach road at Holme and walked along the track towards the Firs. Two Stock Doves, three Collared Doves and a couple of Woodpigeons were all perched together in a small group of sallows in one of the gardens, but there was no sign of their rarer cousin. We could hear a Cuckoo calling, and turned to see it fly across the meadows the other side of the road. A Sparrowhawk circled up in the distance, along with a couple of Marsh Harriers.

A Cetti’s Warbler was singing further along. This was also on the target list for today, but it is a species which is rarely seen, and generally just heard. We walked down a narrow path along by the river, heading towards where we had heard the Cetti’s Warbler singing. A Sedge Warbler and a Chiffchaff were feeding in the vegetation down in the water.

The Cetti’s Warbler sang again, further up along the path, so we walked on. As we came out from under some trees, it suddenly appeared out of a bed of nettles right by the path, flying up into the low branches of an overhanging willow. We had just a brief view, before it dropped back down into the bushes by the river, and then flew round behind us, but it was more than we had hoped for. As we walked back along the path, the Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from some bushes ahead, but it had returned to being more typically elusive and we didn’t see it again.

Past the last house, we walked round and up onto the coast path. A flock of Starlings whirled round out over the saltmarsh. We took the coast path back west to the old paddocks, where a Common Whitethroat was singing from the hawthorns. We had just stopped to listen to a Lesser Whitethroat further along when two Turtle Doves flew out of the trees and over the path ahead of us. We followed them out over the saltmarsh, and watched as they dropped down over the dunes towards the beach.

We decided to walk round to the beach to see if we could get another look. We had to take a bit of a long diversion round the cordon on the beach erected for nesting birds. An Oystercatcher walked off over the stones as we passed and a Ringed Plover was feeding down in the bottom of a sandy creek. A Little Tern flew up calling and circled round overhead.

Little Tern

Little Tern – circled round overhead calling

As we rounded the far end of the cordon, the two Turtle Doves flew up from the dunes ahead of us. They circled round and dropped down again further over, in the middle of the fenced off area. The path through the dunes on the inland side of the cordon took us past that area, but the grass in the middle was very long and we couldn’t see any sign of them, so we climbed up onto the dune ridge to scan distantly from a higher vantage point.

One of the Turtle Doves flew up again, circled round, and dropped back down into the long grass. Then two Turtle Doves came up and circled round together. When they dropped down again, three came up the next time. This time they flew over towards the saltmarsh, the pair coming straight past us before heading back over to the paddocks. We had much better flight views this time – we could see the rusty scaling on their backs – worth the walk out here.

Turtle Doves

Turtle Doves – two of the three feeding out in the dunes

We walked back along the path towards the golf course. A Common Blue butterfly fluttered up from the dunes as we passed. Several Stock Doves came out of the grass, suggesting there must be lots of food out here for them at the moment. Then we crossed back to where we had left the minibus and had lunch on one of the picnic benches by the entrance to the car park.

Our next destination was Titchwell. Calling in at the Visitor Centre, we were told that a Hobby was hunting from the dead trees at the back of the reedbed, another species on our list. We walked straight round to Patsy’s Reedbed and had good views of the Hobby through the scope from there, perched in the trees. It kept flying off, making sorties to hunt, but returned each time to a different perch.

Several Red-crested Pochards were feeding out on the water in front of the screen, one of the easier target birds to tick off the list. Three drakes were just starting to moult, variously starting to get some browner feathers in their upperparts, but the fourth male was already in eclipse, looking rather like a female but with a bright coral-red bill. There were also a few Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks, and a Little Grebe on the water here this afternoon.

6O0A0589

Red-crested Pochard – the smartest of the four drakes on Patsy’s this afternoon

There were several Mediterranean Gulls in with the Black-headed Gulls bathing out in the water. Once you got your eye in, they were easy to pick out with their black hoods and white wing tips. We knew we could get better views out on the Freshmarsh though. There were several Bearded Tits in the reeds here, but they kept dropping down out of view. There was no sign of the Purple Heron in the short time we were there, but we didn’t want to waste hours waiting for it to reappear.

Out along Meadow Trail, a couple of Reed Warblers were flitting round the edge of the dragonfly pool, and one flew up to sing in the trees by the path. Along the main path by the reedbed, there were several Reed Buntings singing and Sedge Warblers flying in and out of the reeds by the small pools in front. We could hear more Bearded Tits calling and they were a bit easier to get onto here, flying back and forth across the channel through the reeds and across the front of the main reedbed pool, if a little more distant.

We stopped it at Island Hide. Several Avocets were feeding on the mud and shallow water in front of the hide, along with a few Black-tailed Godwits. There were quite a few Common Redshanks on here today, but we couldn’t see any Spotted Redshanks from where we were. A distant Little Ringed Plover was on one of the islands over by Parrinder Hide.

There are noticeably more Teal on the Freshmarsh now, with birds starting to return already from their breeding grounds further north. The local Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler are looking a bit tatty, moulting into eclipse plumage now.

From round at Parrinder Hide, we found the Spotted Redshanks, right over at the back against the reeds today. There were six in total, all still largely in their very smart sooty black breeding plumage, very different from the grey-brown Common Redshanks. As expected, there were plenty of Mediterranean Gulls here too, with a good number of them now loafing on the islands in front of the hide. There were lots of 2nd summers in with them today, looking like summer adults with their black hoods but still with black in their wingtips. The fenced off ‘Avocet Island’ is still chock full of noisy nesting gulls.

Mediterranean Gulls

Mediterranean Gulls – loafing on the islands in front of the hide

A couple of Little Ringed Plovers flew round calling, right below the front of the hide. We watched one land on one of the islands and run quickly over to a shallow depression in the ground. It seemed to be scrape building, as it looked to work at the ground with its legs and then pick round the edge as if tidying up. When another Little Ringed Plover approached, the two of them walked in parallel across the island, stopping and bobbing they heads, or picking at the ground.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover – appeared to be scrape building on the island

It was time to head back, as we had one last stop we wanted to make as we returned east along the coast. We could see darker cloud building from the west and it started to spit with rain as we walked along the bank towards the Visitor Centre.

Our final destination for the afternoon was at Wells. We could see several Spoonbills on the pools without even getting out of the minibus. We did get out and walked down along the track for a closer look. There were several adults busy feeding in the water, and two juveniles still with only partly grown bills over on the far bank. Two of the adults were feeding together, almost synchronised, walking side by side and sweeping their bills through the water in unison. We could see the mustard wash on their breasts and their shaggy nuchal crests and, when they caught something and lifted their heads, we could see the yellow tips to their black bills.

Spoonbills

Spoonbills – these two adults were sychronised feeding

Egyptian Geese was another one on the list and another nice easy one here. There were seven together, loafing in the grass close to the track. It had been spitting lightly with rain but at this point it started to fall more heavily. We decided it was time to call it a day and head for home. We still had a couple more birds to add to the list on the way – a Grey Heron out on the marshes at Cley, and a Barn Owl hunting the grazing marshes by the road as we drove back in to Salthouse to round things off nicely.

21st May 2019 – Breck & Fen

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks and neighbouring Fens. It was a lovely clear, sunny day, nice and warm out of the wind, which was a fresh north-westerly.

With an early start to the day, we headed into the forest and parked at  the top of a ride, by a large clearing. As we got out of the minibus, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing, and we looked across to see it perched in the top of a tree across the far side. We had just got the scope on it, when a second Tree Pipit flew up from the grass in the middle of the clearing. It fluttered up, singing, and then spiralled down towards us and landed in one of the trees right in front of us.

The Tree Pipit perched in the tree for a minute or so, singing quietly on and off. Then it launched into another song flight, fluttering up again and spiralling down to the top of another tree a bit further along.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the trees by the parking area

A Yellowhammer was singing nearby too, and that flew in and landed in the trees in front of us briefly. We decided to walk a bit further on down the track, in the hope of hearing a Woodlark, but they are busy nesting now and have gone rather quiet. Another Tree Pipit was singing further on, from the top of a tree out in the middle of the clearing.

Looking back behind us, a Barn Owl had appeared out over the clearing, hunting. It was still quiet early, but it had already been light for several hours, so presumably it had a hungry brood somewhere which it needed to feed. We watched it flying round an round over the grass silently.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting this morning, probably with hungry chicks to feed

It is a bit more wooded further on, and we stopped to listen to the tits in the trees – we saw a couple of Coal Tits fly up into the tops of the pines, and several Long-tailed Tits crossing the path. We had a lot we wanted to pack in this morning, so we started to walk back. A Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the bushes.

Our next target was Stone Curlew. We drove round to a stony field which they like and it didn’t take long for us to find one. It was rather distant though, and although it was still early there was already quite a lot of shimmer. We tried another field a little further on, and this time we found a slightly closer Stone Curlew. There was still a bit of haze from the stony field, but we had a nice view of it in the scope.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – our second of the morning

There was also an Oystercatcher in the field, and a Shelduck in the one next door. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing from some bushes along the hedge line between the two.

As we drove on, we spotted another Barn Owl still out, quartering a grassy field beside the road. It is that time of year when they have to work harder. Our next target for the morning was Nightingale. It seemed very quiet when we arrived. The birds have been in a while now, and are singing much less as they get down to the business of breeding. We walked up to the top of the hill, which is often a good spot for them. As we walked through the bushes, we flushed a Green Woodpecker from the grass. A Common Whitethroat was singing in the brambles.

Just as it seemed like we might be out of luck here, we finally heard the distinctive song of a Nightingale away in the distance. We followed the sound and eventually got to where it was singing, deep in bushes. We stood and listened – a wonderful sound. Then another Nightingale started singing nearby. Perhaps that was the trigger, but shortly afterwards the first Nightingale appeared deep in a holly bush. We could see its body shaking as it sang.

Nightingale

Nightingale – singing from deep in a holly bush

As we turned to go, a third Nightingale started singing behind us. And as we walked back down the hill, we heard another two, but just giving short snatches of song rather than in full voice. It is good to know they are back in good numbers again. A Willow Warbler was singing from the top of a tree too, and then a Reed Warbler started up in some bushes. An odd place for it, miles from any reeds, but not unusual for late arrivals to turn up in odd places.

In the morning sunshine, there were lots of Speckled Yellow moths fluttering about over the short grass, and we found a single Latticed Heath as well. There were plenty of butterflies too – including our first Painted Lady of the year, and good numbers of Common Blue.

Before it got too hot, we wanted to get over to Lakenheath Fen. As we walked out from the Visitor Centre, a Cuckoo was calling from the willows but we couldn’t see where it was. We could hear lots of warblers singing – Reed Warblers, Common Whitethroats. A Garden Warbler was singing from the elders over by the railway line.

We stopped to scan over the reeds from New Fen Viewpoint, but it looked pretty quiet. There were a few ducks out on the water, including a couple of Tufted Ducks. A Great Crested Grebe appeared. A Kingfisher zipped from the trees the other side of the viewpoint and disappeared away over the reeds. The path on the top of the bank, which was open last year and gave a good view out over New Fen, is closed this year. So we had to walk down along the main track, which is much lower and the view is not so good. We could get up to the top of the bank again at the corner of West Wood. A Cuckoo flew out across the reeds and two more Cuckoos were singing in the trees. A distant Marsh Harrier over towards the river was mobbed by Jackdaws. A Red Kite drifted over, and a Common Buzzard circled up too.

We had a look in at Mere Hide, where a Grey Heron was stalking the newly opened out area of reeds to the left. A family of Coot were right in front of the hide, the adults pulling up weed and carefully feeding the four chicks – youngsters which only their parents could appreciate! A Great Crested Grebe was diving behind the reeds, but then made its way right out into the pool in front of the hide. One or two Reed Warblers zipped back and forth across the water.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – in front of Mere Hide

There was still no sign of any Bitterns by this point, and none on the edge of the reeds from the hide. While we were sitting there, we looked out towards Joist Fen and a Bittern flew across. We watched it flying away from us, before it dropped down into the reeds somewhere beyond the main track.

Having at least seen our first Bittern of the day now, we decided to continue on up the path towards Joist Fen, to see if we could improve on the views we had already had. There were lots of ducks asleep in the area of newly cut reedbed by the main track –  Mallard, Gadwall and Shoveler. Three smaller ducks were lingering Teal. A couple of Redshank and Lapwings were enjoying the areas of bare mud.

As we walked up along the path, we spotted another Bittern distantly over the Joist Fen reedbed. We were heading that way, and had almost got to the Joist Fen viewpoint when two more Bitterns came up from the reeds right next to the path. They circled round and round calling right next to us, almost directly over our heads at one point, and low too. What views!

Bittern 1

Bitterns – these two circled up from the reedbed right beside us, calling

The Bitterns looked to be a male and a female. Looking at the photos, we realised that the female was ringed. We have seen this bird in almost exactly the same place for the last two summers. It was originally picked up exhausted as a juvenile near Stevenage in September 2016, and after a couple of days was deemed fit for release at nearby Rye Meads. We then photographed it here in June 2017, before it was back in Herts at Amwell later that year. It was then photographed back at Lakenheath again in May/June 2018.

So it was great to see it here again for another year today. We watched the two Bitterns as they circled slowly back towards Mere Hide and dropped down into the reeds.

Bittern 2

Bittern – the female was ringed, and has been here the last two summers

After all the excitement, we continued on to Joist Fen viewpoint. There were lots of Hobbys up, mostly distantly out over the reeds, and we counted at least twenty in the air together, probably more. Lakenheath Fen is a great place to see large aggregations of Hobbys in the spring, but they are already starting to disperse now, heading off to breed.

There are more dragonflies out, now that the weather is finally starting to warm up. We had seen a few on our way out, but on the walk back we saw more – a couple of Hairy Dragonflies and lots of Four-Spotted Chasers. Azure, Large Red and Red-eyed Damselflies.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – there were more dragonflies out today, in the sunshine

Passing the Visitor Centre, we walked straight on to the Washland Viewpoint. Hockwold Washes are drying out fast now – apparently the owners (it is not owned by the RSPB) may be chasing some grant money for wet grassland creation, so have drained it. If so, it is a great shame. There were just a few commoner ducks, Black-headed Gulls and Rooks on there now. A Hobby circling over provided a nice distraction.

Hobby

Hobby – circled over the Washland viewpoint

It was time for lunch now, so we made use of the picnic tables by the car park. Afterwards, we headed back into the Forest. We had a listen for Firecrest at Santon Downham churchyard, but all we could hear was a Goldcrest singing.

Walking into the trees, a Treecreeper was feeding, climbing up the tree trunks. We heard Blackcap singing, and found another Goldcrest flitting around in some fir trees. Down by the river, a pair of Mandarins were swimming just below the bridge.

Mandarin

Mandarin – a pair were on the river just below the bridge

We still hadn’t found a Woodlark, but they can be difficult at this time of year, as they are less vocal and more secretive when they are breeding. We parked and walked down a ride where they are often found. It seemed very quiet, not helped by it being the heat of the afternoon too. But scanning the open patches of ground we found a Woodlark feeding quietly on the short grass. It eventually flew up and round behind us, calling softly.

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the short grass

We stopped at another clearing on our way back round. The trees here were quiet, but there were lots of Rooks, Jackdaws and Starlings feeding in the short grass. A pair of Cuckoos landed in a large hawthorn bush. We flushed a few butterflies as we walked round – including Small Copper and Small Heath.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford. We were hoping activity might have picked up again but the Arboretum was quiet. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were flying around the feeders by the cottages. We found one or two Goldcrests, but no sign of any Firecrests here. As we walked down towards the lake, we could hear the Little Grebes laughing.

As we made our way round the paddocks, a Siskin came out of the pines singing and we watched its fluttering songflight. A Blackcap was feeding in the trees by the path. Finally we found a Firecrest – we heard it singing first, then saw it flitting around quite high in the fir trees. With that target accomplished, we walked back round to the lake, where a Grey Wagtail was gathering insects on the weir.

Back at the bridge, birds were coming down to bathe and drink now. First a Siskin dropped in, then a mixed flock of tits. Two Nuthatches were with them and we watched them climbing up and down the trees nearby. We followed the flock back up the hill, and were rewarded with a brief view of a Marsh Tit too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – a pair were in the trees by the bridge on our way back

It had been a long day with the early start this morning, and unfortunately it was time to pack up and head for home now.

26th Mar 2019 – Gentle Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. It was a lovely bright, sunny start to the day, although it clouded over late morning, a few hours earlier than forecast. With some restrictions on our mobility we would have a slightly different itinerary today, but we would still be aiming to see as many of the key Brecks species as possible.

To start the day, we headed into the Forest and took a short walk along a ride to look for Woodlarks. As we made our way down the track and out into the clearing, there were lots of finches flying back and forth overhead, up to feed in the pines and down towards the river to drink, Bramblings, Chaffinches and Siskin. One or two of the Bramblings were singing – not much of a song, more of a wheeze! They weren’t sitting still, but we eventually got one of the males in the scope long enough to get a proper look at it.

While we were looking at the finches, two larger birds flew in past us, their distinctive broad wings and short tails identifying them as a pair of Woodlarks. They dropped down to the ground by the track back the way we had just come, and we walked back a short way to get a closer look at them. We could only see one now, presumably the male, perched on a clod of earth, preening. We could see its short crest, rusty cheeks and prominent supercilium, the two sides meeting in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – one of a pair which flew in and landed in the clearing

The Woodlark started to pick around in the bare earth and the walked further off into the grass beyond. Then it flew up into a small oak tree at the back of the clearing, where it perched silently and we got some more great views of it through the scope. There was no sign of the second bird now.

We heard a woodpecker drumming from somewhere beyond the clearing and listening carefully the sustained rapid bursts told us it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We shifted our position to try to triangulate the sound and it seemed to be coming from somewhere over by the road. We couldn’t get easily round there on foot, so we decided to walk back to the van and drive down. Unfortunately, despite it having been drumming on and off for several minutes when we were in the clearing, it had gone quiet by the time we got to where we thought it might have been. Another Brambling was feeding on the buds of a willow by the road.

Brambling

Brambling – another male, feeding in a willow by the road

There has been a Rough-legged Buzzard at Weeting Heath for the last few weeks, so we headed over there next to see if we could catch up with it, and the Stone Curlews. We stopped first at the field entrance just before the reserve to look for the buzzard – it has been favouring the trees beyond here. There was already somebody here looking and we were told it had just flown round to the back of one of the trees, and landed out of view.

There was a nice male Wheatear out on the short grass in the field away to the left though – a bit distant, but a nice spring migrant to catch up with here. A Blackcap was singing in the trees behind us too, another returning migrant and always nice to hear. With Skylarks singing too, it almost felt like spring! Two (Eurasian) Curlews were feeding in the winter wheat field out in front of the gate.

It was starting to warm up a bit now and we could see several Common Buzzards circling up above the trees. While we scanned the sky for raptors, just in case the Rough-legged Buzzard might have taken off while no one was looking, we noticed a different bird of prey rising into the sky. It was a Goshawk, a juvenile, and it started to display, flapping with deep, exaggerated wingbeats.

Another Goshawk circled up just below it, this time an adult, silvery grey above and almost white below, and it gave a few deep, slow wing flaps too.  Presumably this was designed to see off the youngster, as the two birds then drifted off in different directions. Goshawk was one of our target birds for the day, but not one we had expected to get here, so this was another bonus! It didn’t look like the Rough-legged Buzzard was going to reappear in a hurry, so we decided to go and try our luck with Stone Curlews and have another look for it later.

When we got to the Visitor Centre, we were told that the Stone Curlews were not showing from the hide today, but there were two in the field across the road. Looking across from the path just beyond West Hide, we were quickly put on to one of them. It was sat down in the grass, which made it hard to see, not helped by the heat haze which was already starting to develop – a perennial problem here, despite it being early in the morning on a cool March day!

Scanning the grass, we eventually managed to find the second Stone Curlew. It was much easier to see as it was standing up and it ran over towards the first in a series of bursts. Its yellow legs really stood out in the spring sunshine! We then realised we could see the Rough-legged Buzzard from here too, perched on the back of the tree where it had disappeared to earlier. It was rather distant, but through the scope we could see its pale head and contrasting black belly patch.

We had a quick look from West Hide, just in case. There was a Lapwing and a single Curlew out in the long grass, but as we had been informed, no sign of any Stone Curlews from here today. So we headed back to the Visitor Centre for a coffee break.

While the group was having coffee, a quick look across the road revealed that the Rough-legged Buzzard had flown across and landed in the top of one of the pines opposite the reserve. Unfortunately, before we could all get back across to the gate it had flown again, back towards the trees where it had been earlier. We decided to drive down to the field entrance, as it was on our way, and see if it was on view and we hadn’t gone more than a few metres before we saw it perched on the corner of the pines.

From the gate, we had a great view of the Rough-legged Buzzard. It was perched back onto us at first, so we could see its white tail with a wide black bar towards the tip. Then it flapped and gave us a good flash of its wings and tail, before settling round the other way, face onto us. Well worth the extra stop for the much better views.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – showed very well as we were leaving

It clouded over now and the morning sunshine disappeared. We had planned to go looking for Goshawks next, thinking it would stay sunny until early afternoon at least, but it didn’t look so good for them now. At least we had already seen a couple of Goshawks this morning. Still, we drove over to a convenient spot overlooking the forest and stopped to scan over the trees.

There were a few Common Buzzards circling up and it didn’t take us long to find our first hawk. Unfortunately it was the wrong one – a Sparrowhawk. We could see it was small and rather dark, and when it started to flap it did so in rapid bursts. A short while later, another Sparrowhawk circled up the over on the other side.

It felt quite cool now, with a fresh NW wind, and we wondered whether we might have missed the main Goshawk activity in the sunshine earlier. Eventually a Goshawk appeared, circling away to our left. We got it in the scope and had a look at it before it drifted off over the trees and disappeared. We started to wonder whether that might be the lot.

There were other birds to see here though. A flock of Fieldfares flew in and landed in the trees behind us, tchacking. Then a pair of Mistle Thrushes flew out and across the field. There were Lapwings displaying and lots of Meadow Pipits down in the rough grass. We could hear one or two Skylarks singing and then a Woodlark started up away behind us too.

Finally another Goshawk came up over the trees in front of us. As it was turning in regular circles, we could get it in the scope and get a really good look at it – an adult, with pale grey upperparts and whitish below. We could see its broad, rounded tail. It gradually gained height, going higher and higher into the clouds. At one point, we had the Goshawk circling in the same view as a Red Kite, a couple of Buzzards and a Kestrel!

Goshawk

Goshawk – finally one circled up in front of us

It didn’t look like it was going to do anything, but then the Goshawk did a quick burst of slow-flapping display and then swooped sharply down, before turning back up almost vertically and stalling at the top. Even one rollercoaster display was welcome, but after circling again for a minute or so, the Goshawk suddenly launched into a series of swoops. On the last one, it folded its wings and plunged straight back down into the trees. Great to watch!

That seemed a good signal to move on. We drove round to a couple of clearings to see if we could find any more Woodlarks singing next. On our way, we saw several Brown Hares in the fields. At the first clearing, we just listened from the van and all was quiet. But at the second clearing, as we drove up we could hear a Woodlark calling. We parked and got out and could see one perched in the top of a small oak tree by the path through the middle. We decided to have a short walk down the path for a closer look.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – one of a pair in a small oak tree

A second Woodlark flew up into the tree too, then dropped down to the long grass in the clearing below. From down along the path, we had a great view of the first, perched on a branch preening. It looked like it might sing at one point, fluttering out from the tree and round in front of us, but decided to land again. A Yellowhammer flew up into the top of the tree above. When the second Woodlark came up out of the clearing again, the pair flew off out into the middle together. We could still see them walking about in the grass between the rows of young trees.

The day was getting on now. We decided to drive back to Lynford Arboretum and make use of the picnic tables for a late lunch. As we stopped in the car park and got out, we could hear a Firecrest singing. We walked over to the trees and could see it high in the bare branches of a beech, but unfortunately it dropped back into the firs behind before everyone could get over to see it.

We could still hear it singing and thankfully the Firecrest then decided to fly back out into the open again. It perched in some bare branches in front of us singing and we could see its body shaking with the effort. We had a great look at it, before it flew back into the firs again. This was one of the other main targets for the day, so another mission accomplished. Then it was definitely time for lunch!

Firecrest

Firecrest – came out to sing in the bare trees by the car park

There were a few other birds in the trees above the picnic tables while we ate – one or two Goldcrests, several Coal Tits and a Siskin feeding on the opening pine cones. After lunch, we set off to explore the Arboretum. We still wanted to try to see Hawfinch and Crossbill this afternoon.

Stopping first at the gate, there were still a few Bramblings feeding down on the ground in the leaves under the trees. One smart male was really starting to get a black head now. It won’t be long before they are on their way back to Scandinavia for the breeding season. A couple of Yellowhammers flew down to feed on the seed too.

Most of the feeders on the trees were empty, but one or two still had food in and a succession of tits came in to look for something to eat. Then somebody noticed a Treecreeper on one of the feeders and we watched as it picked away at the compacted food in the bottom behind the mesh. Not something you see very often!

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – came in to feed at one of the feeders

Continuing on, there were more Yellowhammers feeding at the hopper out in the orchard, which contains the food for the ducks and chickens. As we walked down past the meadow, we looked up at the pines at the back and noticed a bulky looking bird perched in the top of one. Through the scope, we could see it was a male Common Crossbill.

It took off and flew in towards us, ‘glipping’ loudly, and we could hear a second Crossbill answering from the trees on the edge of the Arboretum. When the first bird landed in the top of one of the trees, we could see there was a pair in the branches together. We were looking into the light from here, but we could see the distinctive crossed mandibles through the scope, before they flew off. Further back, on the edge of the Hall grounds, we could see lots of Fieldfares and Redwings in the tops of some more trees.

At the bottom of the hill, we stopped to look in the firs to see if the Tawny Owl was in its regular roosting spot. It was, but you had to be in just the right spot to see it, high up close to the trunk, half hidden in the branches.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual spot, high in a fir tree

As we walked up over the bridge, we could see more Redwings and Fieldfares flying up into the tops of the poplars just beyond. A quick glance up and we noticed a slightly smaller bird in with them – a Hawfinch! We got it in the scope, but unfortunately it flew before everyone had a chance to look at it. We watched it drop down with the Redwings and disappear into the leafiest of the hornbeams in the paddocks.

We hurried on to the gap in the hedge overlooking the trees. We couldn’t see it at first, although we could hear it calling. Then another Hawfinch appeared in one of the other bare trees, again in amongst all the thrushes. Again, it was very flighty and dropped down before we could get the scope on it. Finally then one of the Hawfinches appeared in the bare branches of the same tree and this time stayed still a bit longer. Now, we could all get a good look at it, its thick neck and huge, cherry stone-cracking bill. It was calling and we could see its bill moving.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – finally one stayed still long enough for us all to get a good look at it

That Hawfinch then flew over and disappeared into the leafier tree too. At which point, a couple of people who had started to walk back towards the bridge called to us to say there were some Crossbills in the top of the poplars there. We walked back so we could see the tops of the trees and got the Crossbills in the scope. There were at least six of them, and they appeared to be mostly females but at least one redder male was with them.

When they started to drop down through the branches, we figured the Crossbills would be coming down to drink so we walked back and took the path into the trees. We could hear several of the Crossbills flying off from the tops of the trees as we arrived, but then we spotted two fly up ahead of us. They had probably been down to drink already and we had missed it, but thankfully they landed not too high in the trees where we could get them in the scope.

Common Crossbill

Common Crossbill – we watched a pair preening in the trees

We stood and watched the Crossbills for a while. They flew over to a branch on the other side of the path, where they weren’t against the light and we could get a really good look at them. We watched them climbing about picking at the bark and then the two of them perched together preening for several minutes.

Eventually, the Crossbills disappeared into the branches and we walked back to the bridge. There was lots of activity here now, with a steady stream of birds coming down to the selection of food which had put out around the pillars and balustrades. A male Reed Bunting was feeding on the top of one of the pillars and the variety of tits included regular visits from at least one Marsh Tit. The Nuthatches were making the most of the peanuts put out today, coming in and out repeatedly, grabbing a nut each time and presumably stashing it somewhere in the trees to eat later.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – carrying off the peanuts to stash in the trees

As we stood on the bridge and looked down into the rushes below, we could just see a Water Rail moving around in the vegetation. It seemed to know we were watching and initially kept itself fairly well hidden. We knew where it was because we could see the rushes moving. Finally it got a bit bolder and showed itself a bit better, walking through some of the more open patches.

It was a nice way to end the day, watching the comings and goings at the bridge, but we were tired now after the exertions of the day and it was time to make our way slowly back up the hill. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, with all our target species seen and seen well, and a lot more besides!

9th Mar 2019 – Even Breezier Brecks

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

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

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

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

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

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding on the floating vegetation in the river

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

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

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

Woodlark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – there were several up enjoying the wind today

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

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

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

Brambling

Brambling – feeding in the leaves under the trees today

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

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

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

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

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

Great Grey Shrike

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

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

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

Bramblings and Yellowhammers

Yellowhammers and Bramblings – coming down to feed under the trees

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

Tawny Owl

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

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

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

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing in the trees down by the paddocks

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

Common Crossbill 1

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

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

Marsh Tit

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

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

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

Common Crossbill 2

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

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

7th Mar 2019 – Brecks in the Breeze

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

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

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – singing in the trees this morning

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

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

Buzzard

Common Buzzard – one of at least six up today

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

 

Goshawk

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

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

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

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

Brown Hares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brambling

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

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

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

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

Bramblings

Bramblings & Yellowhammer – feeding under the feeders

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

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

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

Hawfinch

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

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

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

Reed Bunting

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

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

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

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

6th Mar 2019 – Back to the Brecks

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

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

Bramblings

Bramblings – coming down to the ground under the feeders

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

Grey Wagtails

Grey Wagtail – a pair, feeding along the river

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

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

Siskin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Buzzard

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

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

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

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

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing in the trees

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

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

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

Woodlark

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

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

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

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

Crossbill 1

Common Crossbill – the male, feeding in the larches

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

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

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the fir trees again

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

Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – coming down to drink

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brambling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers – the male below and female above

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

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

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

Great Spotted Woodpecker

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

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

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 2

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

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

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

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

Woodlark 1

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

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

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – the pair walked off into the longer grass

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

Goshawks

Goshawk – chased off by a Carrion Crow

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

Redwing

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

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

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

Mandarin

Mandarin – a stunning drake showing off

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

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

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

Yellowhammer

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

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

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

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

Great Grey Shrike

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

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

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

1st April 2018 – Easter Birding, Day 2

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

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

Brambling

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

 

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

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

Mandarin

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

 

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

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

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

Grey Wagtail

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goshawk

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing down by the bridge

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

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

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male in the trees in the paddocks

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

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

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

Marsh Tit

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

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

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – close views down at the bridge again

 

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – almost impossible to see in the stubble

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

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