Tag Archives: Lynford Arboretum

22nd July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 3

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

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

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Peregrine – back on the church tower again this morning

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

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

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

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

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Stone Curlew – two landed in view in the field

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

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

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

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

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

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer – basking on the path

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

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

Brimstone

Brimstone – feeding on burdock

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

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

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

Bittern

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

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

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

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

Great Crested Grebes

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

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

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

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circling up over West Wood

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

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

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

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

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

Little Grebes

Little Grebes – this pair have three still very small juveniles

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

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

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

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

Marsh Tit

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

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

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

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

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

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6th June 2018 – Heath, Fen & Forest

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of several on show this morning

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

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

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

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

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

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in regularly to the feeders

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

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

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

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – among the many Azure Damselflies by the path

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

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

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser – a male resting on a reed leaf

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

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

Hobby

Hobby – hawking for insects almost over our heads

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

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

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

Great Crested Grebes

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

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

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

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

Bittern

Bittern – perched up in the reeds at New Fen

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

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

Grey Wagtail

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

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

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

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

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

Small Heath

Small Heath – there were lots in the grass today

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

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

Spotted Flycatcher

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

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

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

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the wires again

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

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

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

3rd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 3

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

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

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

Stone Curlews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flying in and out of the bushes, singing

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

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

Four-spotted Chaser

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

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

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

Hobby

Hobby – chasing dragonflies over the reeds in front of us

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

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

Great Crested Grebe

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

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

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

Bittern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kestrel

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

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

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

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

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

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – there were lots more butterflies out this afternoon

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

Tree Pipit

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

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

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

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

1st April 2018 – Easter Birding, Day 2

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

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

Brambling

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

 

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

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

Mandarin

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

 

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

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

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

Grey Wagtail

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goshawk

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing down by the bridge

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

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

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male in the trees in the paddocks

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

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

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

Marsh Tit

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

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

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – close views down at the bridge again

 

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – almost impossible to see in the stubble

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

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

17th March 2018 – ‘Mini-Beast’ in the Brecks

A group tour today down in the Brecks. With the so-called ‘Mini-Beast from the East’ due to arrive with us overnight, we were forecast plunging temperatures, blustery easterly winds and snow flurries. Not exactly ideal conditions – but as we know, forecasts are notoriously unreliable these days.

When we looked more closely, the detailed forecasts were not necessarily that bad, the worst of the snow was predicted to fall on Saturday night, there was just 10-20% risk of precipitation during daylight hours today (Apparently! It turned out to be a bit more than that.) and there was even the chance of some sunny intervals. With the group keen to give it a go, we pressed ahead (despite two of the group dropping out at the last minute, early in the morning). We were all very glad we did!

A quick check on the way confirmed a Stone Curlew was in one of its regular locations, tucked down in a field, so after meeting up down in the Brecks, we headed straight out to see it. Unfortunately, by the time we got back there just a short time later, there was no sign of it. It had started to snow now and, although it wasn’t settling, it was whipping across the field on the blustery wind. We decided to have another look later, once the weather calmed down again.

We headed off into the forest to look for Woodlarks instead. They should be singing at this time of year, but in the cold and snow they were quiet early this morning. We walked round the edge of a couple of clearings where they are regularly to be found, but it was very quiet. So we decided to try to find a more sheltered spot. As we walked down a ride between two plantations, several Song Thrushes were feeding on the path. Two Great Tits and a pair of Coal Tits had dropped down to feed in the grass on the edge of the trees.

As we came out of the plantations, there were open fields on one side of the path. Scanning over the trees beyond, we saw a big flock of Woodpigeons erupt in the distance and a few seconds later picked up two raptors tussling even further off behind. They looked like Goshawks – one of our main targets for the day – but unfortunately as we tried to get everyone onto them, we lost them in the swirling snow. They had probably dropped straight back down out of view. It didn’t feel like our lucky day.

Fortunately, our luck was about to change. We made our way round to another clearing which was more sheltered behind the trees. As we walked up, we could see a big flock of Fieldfares and Redwings out on the far side, flying up periodically and dropping down into the grass. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was calling in the pines beside us and we could hear a Goldcrest singing too.

Walking quietly along the most sheltered edge, we heard a Woodlark call. It was very quiet, and it seemed like it might be way out in the clearing, but they are great ventriloquists and often sound much further away than they really are. We stopped and scanned, then as we turned a Woodlark came out of a furrow not ten metres away from us! We had a great view of it, as it picked its way through the grass – we could see its bold pale supercilium and, from behind, they way they met in a shallow ‘v’ at the back.

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the grass very close to us

We stood quietly and watched for a while. Suddenly a second Woodlark appeared, next to the first. A pair were feeding here together, the male occasionally uttering a brief song phrase, while he accompanied the female. They could be nesting soon, as soon as the weather improves, so the females in particular need to feed up now. The two Woodlarks gradually worked their way away from us, back the way we had just come.

The snow had eased off now, so we headed over to another part of the forest to have a go to see if we could find any Willow Tits. Walking down along the ride, it was very quiet at first, until we came to an area with two feeding tables set up. There were lots of tits constantly coming and going, and in amongst the commoner Blue, Great and Coal Tits, we picked out one or two Marsh Tits. They would dart in, grab a seed, and dart back to the bushes nearby. But there were no birds singing today and few even calling, which would make our chances of locating the Willow Tits much more difficult.

We hadn’t been there long when the sky started to brighten. First we could see the sun through the clouds, then we saw a patch of blue above us. It even started to feel a little milder! We could wait and see if the Willow Tits started to sing now, but this was probably our best chance to see a Goshawk today. The latter was our real priority today, so we hurried back to the car and headed round to a nearby site to try our luck.

On our way, we spotted a Red Kite circling over a field beside the road, a good sign. It was already clouding over again when we arrived, but as we got out of the car, a Common Buzzard was hanging in the wind over the trees. We only had to wait a few minutes before we picked out two Goshawks in the distance.

The two Goshawks were chasing each other, gradually getting closer towards us. It appeared to be an adult after a juvenile, presumably trying to chase it out of its territory. We got them in the scope so everyone could get a good look at them. One dropped down into the trees, sending the Woodpigeons scattering. The other turned and headed towards the road, keeping low and eventually dropping below the tree line too.

Goshawk 1

Goshawk – one of three we saw this morning, when the weather improved

It was a bit brighter still on the other side of the road, and first one Goshawk crossed away in the distance, then another came over much closer, scattering the Lapwings and Starlings from the fields behind. Remarkably, one of the Goshawks, the juvenile, then started to display over the trees, starting with a bout of slow-flapping with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, then doing a quick rollercoaster dive before turning back up vertically.

Even better, a third Goshawk then appeared over the field too, another juvenile, this one with rather tatty wings. We watched it as it headed over to the trees at the back too, and once again managed to get good views of it in the scope here. A couple of minutes later, we picked one of them up again, circling up high in the distance.

Goshawk 2

Goshawk – the rather tatty-winged juvenile

To have such good views of Goshawks on a day like today was a real bonus. But they do like the wind, more so than a bright but still day, which undoubtedly helped, as well as the briefly brighter skies. We were glad we had hurried over. We were then given a tip off that two Stone Curlews had been seen flying across to one of the other fields, back where we had started out this morning, where they had taken shelter along the edge. Having had such good views of the Goshawks and with the snow still holding off, we decided to head straight round there next.

When we arrived, we had a quick scan around the field edge from the other side of the road, but couldn’t immediately see anything. As we walked up to the hedge, suddenly a Stone Curlew flew up from the long grass on the far side of the field and helpfully landed right out in the middle. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it – the staring eye with bright yellow iris really stood out.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – flew out and landed in the middle of the field

The Stone Curlew stood in the field for a couple of minutes, then ran across towards the other side in stages, stopping still for a while each time, before eventually disappearing from our view behind the trees. It was great to catch up with it here this time.

With three of our main targets for the day already seen and seen well, we decided to have a go at catching up with Lesser Spotted Woodpecker next. Unfortunately, when we got to Santon Downham we found that the footpath alongside the river had been closed.

This footpath is always muddy and slippery in winter, particularly if you try to walk along the sloping parts of the bank which appear superficially drier. A few days ago, a birdwatcher down looking for the woodpeckers had unfortunately slipped and seemingly broken her ankle. It is not an easy place for the emergency services to access anyway and there seemed to be a misunderstanding initially that the casualty was stuck in the mud, which she was not. There was quite a response as a result – two fire engines, fire support vehicles and two fire officers’ cars, one ambulance, one paramedics car, and a police car!

Hopefully the birdwatcher concerned was eventually rescued without too much distress and we wish her a speedy recovery. However, in the light of this incident it appears the Forestry Commission have closed off the whole footpath for an indefinite period, which means there is no access to look for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in their favoured spot.

We contented ourselves with a quick walk round the area instead. There were lots of Chaffinches and Goldfinches in the trees, plus a couple of Marsh Tits, one of which was singing beside the road. A large flock of Redwings, about 50-60 strong, flew up from the paddocks and into the poplars by the river, along with a group of Starlings. A Great Spotted Woodpecker landed high in the poplars too.

A quick look at the feeders in the garden by the bridge revealed several Bramblings. A brighter male showed particularly well, on the ground and perched in a nearby tree, as well as several slightly duller females.

Brambling

Brambling – several were in the gardens down by the bridge

We had intended to eat our lunch down along the river bank, but instead we drove down to St Helens picnic area. It was quiet and fairly birdless here today, so after eating and having a quick look down at the river, we decided to make our way round to Lynford Arboretum.

As we walked in along the track past the Arboretum, we stopped for a quick look at the feeders from the gate. There was very little food left, just a few fatballs in the cage feeder which had attracted a handful of tits. Nothing was feeding on the ground here this afternoon.

Continuing on down the hill towards the bridge, a Redwing was feeding under the trees with a couple of Blackbirds. The latter flew off, but the Redwing appeared pretty fearless. Perhaps it was hungry, and we had great close views of it as it probed around the base of the trunks, hiding in the buttresses, or hopped out across the grass between the trees.

Redwing

Redwing – this fearless individual was feeding around the base of trees

There was no food put out for the birds down at the bridge either this afternoon, but thankfully we had brought a bag of sunflower seeds with us. Within seconds of spreading some out, first the Blue Tits arrived, quickly followed by Great Tits and Marsh Tits. This is a great place to get close up views of the latter in particular.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming down to sunflower seeds at the bridge

Eventually the Nuthatches got involved too, with several different individuals coming in to the seed from time to time. They are a bit shyer than some of the other birds, and spent quite a bit of time perched in the trees nearby before making a very swift visit.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – waiting to come down to the sunflower seeds at the bridge

There were other birds here too. Robins, Dunnocks and Chaffinches came in to investigate the seed too. Several Long-tailed Tits were hanging on one of the feeders which still had a couple of fatballs left. We heard a Treecreeper calling but it didn’t show itself today. There were lots of Siskins in the alders and we watched a male singing and displaying to a female above our heads.

After a while, a large group of people out for an afternoon stroll came down along the path beside the lake and stopped on the bridge. We took this as our cue to go and look for Hawfinches in the paddocks. As we walked down along the path beside the fields, towards one of the larger gaps in the hedge, we could see lots of Redwings in the hornbeams in the middle, along with a Mistle Thrush.

It was not forecast to snow again until later tonight, but at that point a thick flurry started once more, which for a minute or two made it difficult to see into the trees. It eased off a bit and we did manage to have a good look, but there was no immediate sign of any Hawfinches there and very few other finches feeding below the trees today. When all the Redwings and Chaffinches which had been there spooked and flew off towards the Arboretum, we decided to go for a walk round.

There were several pairs of Gadwall on the lake and two Canada Geese on the lawn in front of the Hall, along with several Moorhens. We could hear a Little Grebe laughing at us, but didn’t see it here. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was in the trees beside the path, before flying off behind us as we passed. A little further on, we flushed a drake Mandarin from the water under the trees beside the path, which flew off into the wood beyond, and we eventually found two Little Grebes tucked in under the overhanging vegetation, fast asleep.

Circling round through the trees, it was fairly quiet, apart from the far side where a Marsh Tit called as it came in for some seed. As we made our way round to the far side of the paddocks, we stopped to look in the top of the firs beyond, to see if any Hawfinches were coming in. It was snowing quite heavily now, although at least it was still not settling on the ground, and the wind seemed to have picked up again, which meant it was hard to see them perching in the tops of the trees for long.

It felt like we might have run out of luck at the last hurdle, but as we walked back beside the paddocks we could see all the Redwings were now busy feeding under the hornbeams. We have seen the Hawfinches feeding in with the Redwings before, so we stopped for another careful scan and there was a cracking male Hawfinch down on the ground. We all managed to get a good look at it through the scope, before something spooked all the birds and they flew up into the trees.

Making our way back up to the car park, we had nice views of a Goldcrest in the low fir trees here. We continued on to the old gravel pits beyond, where there were not as many ducks as there have been in recent weeks. There were plenty of Tufted Ducks and a few Cormorants. A flock of Gadwall dropped in, accompanied by a few Teal. On the larger pit, it was pretty exposed – the pair of Great Crested Grebe were still present, but swimming around at the back.

With occasional flurries of snow still falling, it was time to call it a day and head back to the warmth of home! Once again, we had seen the benefit of getting out despite the weather and giving it a go, seeing all the main species we might have hoped to see today.

10th March 2018 – Back to the Brecks

A group tour today, down in the Brecks. The forecast earlier in the week had been for rain all day, but thankfully prospects had improved since then. It was still a rather grey and cloudy day but we just had a short, light shower over lunch, which was perfectly acceptable under the circumstances!

With the possibility that it might brighten up through the morning, we headed out to search for Woodlarks first, but ready to go looking for Goshawks if the weather improved. As we got out of the car, a Redwing was perched in the top of a tall tree and a Nuthatch was piping from the wood opposite.

As we walked in along the ride, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing and we found the male high in another bare tree in a nearby clearing. A female was less obtrusive in a small oak on the side of the path and the bright yellow male flew across to join her. We had a good look at them through the scope.

Walking round the edge of the clearing, we stopped to watch a Green Woodpecker which flew across and landed up in one of the trees over the far side. Suddenly we heard a Woodlark calling behind us and turned to see it had flown up and perched in the tree out in the middle, where the male Yellowhammer had been earlier.

That seemed to be the trigger for a burst of activity from the Woodlarks, as two started singing over the other side. We looked up to see one of the males high overhead, fluttering rounded bat-like wings and short tail, song-flighting. We could hear a second male doing the same, further away. The ringing, slightly melancholic song of the Woodlark is one of the sounds of early spring in the Forest, great just to stand and listen to.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of several song-flighting this morning

The first Woodlark then started to sing from the tree too. It took off and flew across towards us, landing in a small oak towards the front of the clearing. We had a good look at it through the scope, noting its small crest and well marked pale supercilium. At that point, three Skylarks flew across in front of us too, noticeably longer-tailed than the Woodlarks.

Continuing on to the next clearing, we could still hear Woodlarks singing all around. One flew up from the edge of the path as we approached but disappeared off over the back. We stood and scanned here for a minute – there were several Yellowhammers here too and a couple of Linnet in the hazels on the edge of the grass. Having enjoyed good views of the Woodlarks, and with the weather still looking rather grey, we decided to have a quick look to see if we could find a Willow Tit. We made our way over to another block of forest and walked in along a different ride.

It was rather quiet as we made out way through between the dense blocks of commercial pine plantation, but we did come across a pair of Treecreepers which chased each other round and round the trunks of the trees, stopping occasionally for us to get a better look at them. A Goldcrest was singing from the pines by the path and showed nicely flitting around above our heads.

There are a couple of feeding tables set up here for the tits, and we stationed ourselves overlooking one of them. A steady stream of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits was coming in and out all the time. We saw Marsh Tits too and a Nuthatch, but no sign of any Willow Tits. It is not clear how often they visit the feeding stations, but they can sometimes be heard singing or calling in the surrounding trees.

Unfortunately there was very little vocal activity from any of the other tits either this morning, until the weather started to brighten. We hadn’t been looking here too long but we were then torn as to wait to listen for Willow Tits or to head round to look for Goshawks. As the latter was the priority for the day, we decided to head back to the car, briefly distracted by a smart male Yellowhammer perched obligingly in the bushes by the road.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – this smart male was perched in the bushes by the road

Parking at a convenient location nearby overlooking the forest, we were only just disembarking from the car when we spotted a Goshawk circling behind the tops of the trees. After a hasty exit, everyone managed to get onto the bird in question, although it was only just visible behind the firs. It was a young Goshawk, a juvenile, darker grey-brown above and orangey streaked black below, with very ragged wings.

As the first Goshawk started to circle up a little higher, a second bird appeared. This was an adult and by the looks of it a big female, very pale grey above and appearing almost white below. It was heading over towards the juvenile which was now moving off right as the adult Goshawk started to display, flying after it with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. The juvenile had strayed into its territory and the adult was flying up to see it off.

We lost sight of the two Goshawks behind a line of trees, before the adult appeared again further over. It then launched into a series of rollercoaster display dives, stooping straight down before turning sharply and climbing almost vertically, stalling at the top, before repeated it all over again. It did this several times, gradually losing height before it disappeared down into the trees.

Goshawk

Goshawk – circling up briefly before displaying after a juvenile entered it territory

It was very fortunate we had made the decision to come looking for Goshawks when we did. Talking to some other people who were already there, this was the first Goshawk they had seen this morning. It was already clouding over again when we arrived, and the short-lived period of warmer weather had just been enough to stimulate some activity. Rather quickly, it returned to being grey and cooler.

We stayed for a short while to see if the Goshawks might reappear, but there was no further sign while we were there. We did see lots of Common Buzzards circling over the treetops, a couple of Red Kites hanging over the fields behind, and a pair of Kestrels too. A Woodlark was singing in the distance and a little flock of Chaffinches which flew overhead had a couple of Bramblings with them too, although they were hard to pick out in flight.

Brambling

Brambling – showed well in the tree by the feeders

With lots to pack in today, we decided to head off and try something different. We made our way over to Santon Downham and parked in the Forestry Commission car park there. A Goldcrest was singing in the fir trees nearby as we arrived. As we made our way down towards the river, a flock of Redwings and Fieldfares flew over. We stopped briefly to look at the feeders and a smart male Brambling flew up into the tree above our heads, giving us much better views than the flyover earlier.

Down at the bridge, we had a quick scan up and down the river. A pair of Grey Wagtails flew towards us calling and the male landed on a branch overhanging the water, just below the bridge, and started singing. When the female flew on downstream, he followed after her.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – stopped to sing in a tree by the bridge

As we made our way down along the path on the riverbank, a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew across and landed in a tree on the other side briefly. A Marsh Tit was singing and there were some Long-tailed Tits in the sallows alongside the ditch, where a Goldcrest had just been bathing and stopped to preen. We could hear another Woodlark singing in the distance.

The poplars by the river were rather quiet today. A Nuthatch flew up and perched above us on one of the trunks and a Treecreeper climbed up past it. We had brought our lunches along with us, and sat on some of the sections of sawn up trunk helpfully left here to eat them. We were hoping we might get lucky and come across a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here, even though it was not really the best time of day to look for them, but there was no woodpecker activity at all here now.

It started to spit with rain and a brief light shower passed through, thankfully not even enough to get us wet. Once we had finished eating, we started to make our way back. We had a quick look in the poplars the other side of the road too, but a Great Spotted Woodpecker was the only bird calling here. A smart Little Grebe in breeding plumage now showed nicely down on the river, diving repeatedly along the far bank.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – on the river at Santon Downham

Back in the car, we paid a brief visit to the car park at St Helens. After not being reported since 22nd February, the Parrot Crossbills were apparently seen again yesterday, but it was unclear exactly where and there was no obvious sign of them here. We only spent a few minutes here though and decided not to hang around and to make our way round to Lynford Arboretum, which is where we had planned to spend the rest of the afternoon.

As we walked down the path past the Arboretum, we stopped for a quick look under the beech trees from the gate. There were lots of tits on the cage of fat balls and coming down to the seed spread liberally on the ground. A Nuthatch came down to join them too, but there were only a couple of Chaffinches otherwise here today

Down at the bridge, there was a little bit of seen put out on the pillars already, but we added a generous handful of black sunflower seeds too. There were lots more birds coming and going and we enjoyed great close views of Marsh Tits and Nuthatches in particular here, even though you had to be quick as they darted in, grabbed a sunflower seed or two and zipped off back to the trees repeatedly.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tits – great close views at the bridge again today

A pair of Reed Buntings kept coming in to the seed at the bridge too and there were lots of Siskins feeding in the alders on either side of the path and down by the lake.

Siskin

Siskin – lots were feeding in the alders here

After a while, we had to tear ourselves away from all the activity at the bridge and we made our way down to the paddocks to look for Hawfinches. We walked along to a gap in the hedge and looked over to the hornbeams in the middle where the first bird we spotted was a smart male Hawfinch perched up in the top!

We got the Hawfinch in the scope and had a good look at it. It was picking at the lichen on the branch, turning from side to side, giving us a great view of its huge bill, white tip to the tail and ornate wing feathers. When we heard a Hawfinch calling, we could see it was not the bird we were watching and a scan of the tree revealed a female Hawfinch climbing up through the branches nearby. It came over to join the male and we had the two of them in the scope together, the female noticeably duller grey-brown.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a male, perched up in one of the hornbeams in the paddocks

Eventually, the male Hawfinch took off and started to fly over towards us, quickly followed by the female. They turned and headed away strongly south-east, over the pines and away out of view. A quick scan of the grass in the paddocks revealed a Mistle Thrush which flew up and perched nicely on a gate for us to look at it.

We walked back towards the bridge and round by the lake, where a pair of Gadwall were a nice addition to the day’s list. The drakes look rather plain grey and black at first glance, but closer inspection reveals intricate patterning, the connoisseur’s duck! A pair of Canada Geese were feeding on the lawn in front of the hall. When we got back to the bridge, a Great Spotted Woodpecker came down to investigate the seed but flew up into the trees behind when it saw us approaching.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – in the trees by the bridge on our way back

Back in the car park, all we could find this afternoon were a couple of singing Goldcrests, so we made our way down the track beyond to check out the pits. There were not as many duck on here as there have been in recent weeks. A couple of drake Goldeneye disappeared round into one of the bays on the western pit, out of view. As we walked round to the eastern pit, we heard a distinctive call and looked up to see a pair of Mandarin flying past, the first we have been here this year.

The sun was finally starting to show itself just as we were finishing, totally contrary to the forecast which had suggested it would cloud over through the afternoon and may rain later. We stopped to watch a couple of Great Crested Grebes diving out on the water, looking very smart now in their breeding plumage. A male Reed Bunting was singing in the alders nearby – not the most exotic of songs, but it made it feel like spring already.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – very smart now in breeding plumage

It was a nice way to end, but unfortunately that meant it was time to head back to the car and finish the day.

7th March 2018 – Winter Coast & Forest #2

Day 2 of two days of Private Tours today, and it was down to the Brecks for the day. We were originally forecast showers and brighter intervals, but this morning they changed their minds – a more organised band of rain was now expected. So it turned out, but at least it cleared through quickly and we even had a bit of brighter weather in the afternoon. As ever, it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing some really good birds!

One of the targets for the day was to be Goshawk, but the weather forecast was far from ideal now. We swung round first thing via one of the sites where we might hope to see them, but it was very damp, grey and misty. We decided to try for some of our other targets in the general area, so we could come back if the weather improved.

As we drove away, we noticed lots of thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings in some low winter wheat. On the other side of the road, several Chaffinches were dropping down to feed in a weedy field. When we stopped to look through them, we noticed there were thrushes out here too. A single Mistle Thrush flew out to join them.

At least it wasn’t raining when we pulled up at the head of one of the rides leading into the Forest. Three Yellowhammers were sitting in the top of a small oak tree as we walked along the track. They flew off as we approached and landed in the top of another very tall tree out in the middle of a clearing.

We walked along the path around the edge of the clearing and, as we did so, we noticed a Woodlark flutter up from out in the middle and land in the top of the same tall tree. It wasn’t singing – perhaps not a surprise given the weather – but we had a nice view through the scope. This was the species we had come here to see, so it was good to get one under our belt.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – showed well on the edge of the clearing

A little further along the path and we heard another Woodlark calling, in the edge of the clearing much closer to us. We stopped and scanned the ground and it flew up and landed a short distance back along the path. When we looked across where it had landed, there were now three Woodlarks together here. We walked back slowly and had a great view of them as they walked around in the low grass.

Two of the Woodlarks seemed to be following each other closely, while the third fed quietly nearby. The two were bobbing up and down nervously, calling. It looked like they might be two males, having a bit of a territorial dispute, while the female was busy feeding – the third bird looked a little duller coloured.  Eventually, one of the two Woodlarks flew up in one direction, where a fourth bird called in response, and the pair flew off the other way.

Woodlark 2

Woodlarks – these two were following each other, bobbing and calling

Having had great views of the Woodlarks, we headed off to another ride through the Forest to look for Willow Tits, while we waited for the weather to brighten up. As we walked in through the trees, it was rather quiet initially but when we got to one of the feeding stations put out for them on the edge of the pines, there was a lot more activity. A steady stream of birds were coming and going.

As we stood and watched for a while, we saw a very good selection of tits – lots of Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, and several Marsh Tits. A family of Long-tailed Tits passed through the trees overhead. A Nuthatch came in to grab some sunflower seeds too. The Willow Tits here don’t seem to visit the feeding tables very often, but they can often be heard calling and singing in the vicinity. Unfortunately, in the cold grey weather there was very little vocal activity from any of the birds today.

Then it started to rain. We decided to head back to the car and go off to try something else instead. With no sign of the weather improving, we headed over to look for one of our other targets for the day, Common Crane. As we drove west towards Lakenheath, the sky seemed to brighten and the rain started to ease again.

Given the weather, we decided to drive round the area and try to find the Cranes feeding in the fields first, rather than walk out across the road. As we checked out some of the favoured spots, a Kingfisher perched on the edge of a drainage ditch by the road was a welcome sight. A Great White Egret out in the middle of a field took off as we pulled up and flapped away lazily, dropping down out of view.

Scanning the rushy meadows carefully, we found a pair of Cranes out in one of the fields. The rain had stopped now and they were busy preening, presumably drying themselves out. For such tall birds, they are remarkably inconspicuous on the ground, but when they stretched up we could see their black and white heads and long necks.

Cranes

Common Crane – we found this pair drying out in a rushy meadow

With the weather improving and our main target here achieved, we headed round to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen for a quick look out at the Washland. There were lots of Reed Buntings on the feeders, but they flew off into the bushes as soon as we came outside. As we walked down the path towards the river, the sun came out and it was lovely and warm as we climbed up onto the bank.

The water levels here are not surprisingly high at the moment – lots of water for wildfowl. A quick look at a party of five swans over the back of the pool confirmed they were Whooper Swans – we could see their wedge-shaped bills with a long tongue of yellow stretching down to a point.

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans – a party of five on the Washes

There were plenty of ducks on here too – Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck. This is always a good spot for Garganey in spring and with the very first birds already arriving in the country in recent days we had a careful scan just in case. There was no sign of one today, but surely it is just a matter of a week or so, if the weather continues to warm up. Lots of Tufted Ducks were diving on the river.

The only egret we could see at first was a Little Egret tucked down in the reeds on the far side of the river. There are normally Great White Egrets here too, and we eventually managed to find one in the distance away downstream.

A Water Pipit had flown off calling as we walked up onto the bank and after a while what was presumably the same bird flew back past us. Another one flew up from the thick vegetation below the bank as it called and landed a little further along. We had a quick look for it, but with the water levels high they were feeding in the thicker rushes today.

With the weather now warming up nicely, we decided to have another go for Goshawks while we had our lunch. Unfortunately, it proved to be just a transitory window of brightness and it clouded over again as we drove back into the Forest. At least it was dry now though.

As we ate our sandwiches, we scanned the trees. There were a few raptors up from time to time. The Common Buzzards were spiraling up in little groups, looking for thermals to gain height, although they never seemed to gain any great elevation. At one point, we had eight in the air circling together. A Red Kite appeared behind us in the distance, and a Sparrowhawk was displaying a long way off too. A Kestrel perched in the top of a fir tree.

Common Buzzards

Common Buzzards – circling up trying to find a thermal

After a while, we did manage to spot a Goshawk. It too was some way off, but it circled up and started displaying, flying across with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. It dropped down behind the trees, but we guessed it was still in the area as the Woodpigeons over that way scattered in alarm. A short while later, what was presumably the same Goshawk circled up and displayed for a couple of minutes more.

The forecast had indicated it might brighten up early in the afternoon, but there was no sign of that happening yet. There were a few other birds here to distract us. Lots of Chaffinches were feeding under the trees and when they flew out a Brambling appeared with them and landed in a small oak in front of us.  A Treecreeper appeared too, working its way up and down the trunks, and a flock of Fieldfares flew over, ‘tchack, tchacking’ loudly.

At least we had managed to see a Goshawk, despite the weather. We decided to head down to Lynford Arboretum for the rest of the afternoon. As we walked in along the path, we could hear a Siskin singing high in the larches. There were lots of tits covering the cage of fatballs looking in from the gate, and plenty of Chaffinches down in the leaf litter below.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit – Lynford is a great place to see – and photograph – tits up close

There was no food out down at the bridge when we arrived, but fortunately we had brought supplies with us today. Only a few seconds after putting out some sunflower seeds, the hordes began to descend. At first, the Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits appeared, quickly joined by a couple of Marsh Tits.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – quickly came in to take advantage of the sunflower seeds

They were then joined by a couple of Nuthatches, which made repeated forays in from the trees, grabbing a beakful of seeds each time, presumably stashing them somewhere away in the wood. We stopped and spent a while photographing all the birds coming in to feed.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – one of two which came in repeatedly to the seeds we put out

There had been a lot of disturbance out over the paddocks when we arrived, with military helicopters repeatedly circling out very low from the battle area. We had a walk down to see if we could find any Hawfinches feeding there, but there was no sign of them this afternoon. There were fewer other finches feeding under the trees than normal too, with just one Brambling today and a 2-3 each of Greenfinch and Chaffinch.

The flock of Redwings had been in the trees just beyond the bridge when we arrived, but had now flown back out into the paddocks, along with a couple of Mistle Thrushes. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was chipping away at a branch low down in the hornbeams.

While we were standing and looking at the trees in the paddocks, we heard some distant yelping, honking noises. It was hard to work out where they were coming from at first, but then we realised they were swans calling and a large flock of 58 came over the trees at the back. They flew straight towards us over the paddocks and over our heads, Bewick’s Swans heading off east.

Bewick's Swans

Bewick’s Swans – some of the 58 which flew over us this afternoon

Bewick’s Swans are on the move at the moment, leaving their wintering grounds at Welney and Slimbridge and heading back to the continent on their way back towards their breeding grounds in Russia. It was great to see and hear them as they passed over us. It was quite late in the day and they were flying rather low, so perhaps they were planning to stop off somewhere in east Norfolk for the night.

We still hadn’t seen any Hawfinches though, so we walked further up along the edge of the paddocks, scanning the trees. The sky had cleared and the sun was out now. Suddenly we noticed two birds fly in and land in the top of a fir tree at the back – two Hawfinches. They were silhouetted against the light, but we assumed they would sit in the tops for a while in the late afternoon sunshine. We walked round to where we might get a better view of them, but by the time we got there they had dropped down out of sight.

We waited a while, scanning the trees, and it wasn’t long before another Hawfinch appeared in the tops. From where we were standing, we had a much better look at this one, catching the sun. We could see its enormous bill, bright chestnut plumage, and white tip to the tail. We had a good look at it through the scope, a cracking male, but when we tried to reposition ourselves for a closer look it too had dropped down into the trees.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male perched up in the late afternoon sun

We still wanted to have a quick look at the gravel pits, so we decided to make our way back. At the bridge, the sunflower seeds we had put out had already all gone! As we walked up towards the pits, a Green Woodpecker laughed and flew across behind us. We had received a message to say that there was a pair of Goosander on the pits this afternoon and when we arrived we immediately spotted one, a redhead, resting on one of the platforms.

Goosander

Goosander – this redhead was resting on one of the platforms

There was no sign of the male Goosander though at first, but after scanning from the hide for a few seconds, he appeared from behind the trees at the back, accompanied by another female. There was a single male Goldeneye on here too, and three further drakes on the other pit.

It was getting late now and we had to be back, so we made our way back to the car. As we got to the car park, a Firecrest was calling from somewhere high in the fir trees, although it proved difficult to see before it went quiet. That would have been a nice way to end, but it was starting to get dark as we drove back and the return journey added no less than 4 Barn Owls and a couple of Woodcock zipping past in the dusk. Then it was back home for tea (and medals?!).