Tag Archives: Hawfinch

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!

16th Mar 2019 – Brecks Bonanza

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

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

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – dropped down to feeding in the short grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goshawk 1

Goshawk – several birds were displaying, despite the wind

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

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

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

Goshawk 2

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

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

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

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – trying to hide behind the sheep wire!

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

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

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

Mandarin

Mandarin – there were two pairs back again today

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

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

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

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

Brambling

Brambling – we counted at least 8 here still

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

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

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

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

Common Crossbill

Common Crossbill – waiting to come down to drink

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Grey Shrike

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

Woodlark

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

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

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

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

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

Goshawks

Goshawks – we watched a pair displaying just as we arrived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brambling

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

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

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the trees by the bridge

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

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

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

Hawfinch

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

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

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

Crossbill 1

Common Crossbill – scope filling views back at the bridge

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

Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – landed in the trees right above our head

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

Crossbill 3

Common Crossbill – coming down to drink at the small pool

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

9th Feb 2019 – Breezy in the Brecks

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – flew over our heads singing first thing this morning

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

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

Hen Harrier

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

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

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

Siskin & Bramblings

Siskins & Bramblings – under the feeders with a Blackbird

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

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

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

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

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

Gulls

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

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

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

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

Bramblings

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

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

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming to seed put out at the bridge

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

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

Hawfinch

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

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

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

Goshawk

Goshawk – a nice bonus, much closer this afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

Starlings

Starlings – numbers are starting to build again

1st April 2018 – Easter Birding, Day 2

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

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

Brambling

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

 

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

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

Mandarin

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

 

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

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

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

Grey Wagtail

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goshawk

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing down by the bridge

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

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

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male in the trees in the paddocks

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

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

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

Marsh Tit

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

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

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – close views down at the bridge again

 

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – almost impossible to see in the stubble

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

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

27th March 2018 – Brecks Birding Again

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

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

Brambling

Brambling – several were singing down by the bridge

 

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

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

Chiffchaff

Chifchaff – feeding feverishly along the river bank

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

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

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – one of the two which flew past us simultaneously

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

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

Mandarin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – the female turned out to be colour-ringed

 

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

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

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

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow – hiding in the hedge

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting in the early afternoon

 

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

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

 

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

Firecrest

Firecrest – flitting around in the trees by the car park

 

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

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

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

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – a bright male up in one of the hornbeams

 

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

Hawfinch 2

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

 

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

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in for sunflower seeds down at the bridge

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

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

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – great views feeding by the path beside the lake

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

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

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