Tag Archives: Lynford

7th Feb 2020 – Winter, Broads & Brecks, Day 1

Day 1 of our three-day Winter, Broads & Brecks tour today. After a frosty start, it was a lovely bright and sunny winter’s day, with a fresh SE wind. With the best weather forecast of the long weekend, we decided to head down to the Brecks today.

After the drive down to the Brecks, we parked by the entrance to a ride which heads off into the forest. As we got out of the minibus, two Woodlarks flew over calling and we watched them drop down into the clearing opposite. Two Yellowhammers flew over too and landed in a nearby tree. A Green Woodpecker flew away across the clearing and landed on the side of a pine tree on the near edge of the block over the far side. All before we had walked a step!

As we set off to walk round the edge of the clearing, two Mistle Thrushes were down on the ground in the entrance to  the paddocks opposite, and flew up as we walked past. We took a path along the edge of the clearing, where it skirted the margin of a neighbouring field. There were lots of finches and more Yellowhammers in the trees on the edge of the field and we got the scope on a smart yellow-headed male Yellowhammer.

Several Goldfinches dropped down to feed on the seed heads of some fat hen on the edge of the field. A male Lesser Redpoll dropped down with them. They flew up and landed in the trees, then dropped down again and we watched the Lesser Redpoll feeding with the Goldfinches.

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll – this male was feeding with Goldfinches

As we walked round the far side, we could hear a couple of Coal Tits singing in the pines. A male Woodlark started singing quietly out in the clearing, presumably one of the birds we had seen drop down earlier. They were somewhere on the ground, but the vegetation was too thick to see them. Continuing out into the sunshine, out beyond the pines, we tried scanning up between the rows of newly-planted trees. We couldn’t see the Woodlarks from here either, but then the pair flew up from the back of the clearing calling and we watched them fly off over where we had parked.

We heard the deep ‘kronk’ call of a Raven, which disappeared over pines, but only one or two of the group got onto it. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over, landing in a tree at the back briefly. Then one Woodlark flew back in, circling high out over the clearing on the other side of the track. A second Woodlark came up from the ground to join it, and the two of them flew over our heads together and dropped back down in the clearing where the pair had been earlier. Again, we couldn’t see them in long grass.

Back to where we had parked, there were lots of birds in the ground in the paddocks now. Several Redwings, a couple of Mistle Thrushes, and small groups of Chaffinches and Goldfinches. There were more finches up in a couple of large beech trees on the edge of the paddocks, several Greenfinches and we picked out a couple of Bramblings in with them. They have been scarce this winter, with fewer than normal coming here from Scandinavia. A Nuthatch was feeding in the top of one of the beech trees too.

We were just getting back into the minibus when one of the Woodlarks flew over our heads calling, out over the paddocks. It started to sing, it’s rather mournful song. They had been so to get going this morning, possibly due to the cold and frosty start to the day, so it was good to hear one singing properly.

We moved on, and parked again by another ride. It was quiet walking in through the dense pines, until we came out towards the sunny edge on the far side. There were several Coal Tits singing and lots of birds coming and going from the feeding table set up in the trees. We added some more seed and stood back to watch. Lots of tits came in, including a steady succession of Marsh Tits. We heard a Treecreeper singing and then it appeared on a pine trunk by the feeder. A Goshawk called from somewhere deep in the forest.

Then we heard the distinctive nasal calls of a Willow Tit. It called three times, then went quiet. We hoped it might pay a visit to the feeding table, but despite checking all the birds more carefully, there was no sign of it coming in for food. Then it called again – it seemed to be coming from the sunny outer edge of the trees, so we walked round to look there. We did see a Goldcrest, low in a holly bush in the edge of the pines. But the Willow Tit had now gone quiet again.

It was warming up a little now, and after a rather still start, the wind had picked up a touch too. It felt like good conditions for Goshawks. We drove round to a lay-by overlooking the forest, where quite a few people had already gathered. A Goshawk had just flown across before we arrived apparently, but was not yet displaying. A few Common Buzzards were circling up above the trees, normally a good sign. But the Goshawks were rather slow to get going.

There were other raptors to see while we waited. A Red Kite away to right, was chasing after a young Lesser Black-backed Gull for some reason. Then two Red Kites circled up together and drifted west past us. A Kestrel had been hovering over the cover strip in the middle of the field in front, on and off while we were there. So when a small falcon flew in high from the left, we assumed it would be the Kestrel until we looked more closely. It was a Merlin. It dropped down and flushed a Meadow Pipit from the low oil seed rape crop, chasing it up and into the trees. The Merlin quickly lost interest though and we watched it disappear off east. Merlin is a rare bird here in the Brecks, much rarer than Goshawk!

There was other wildlife too. A pair of Roe Deer ran across the field and disappeared into the trees at the back. There were several Skylarks singing.

Finally a Goshawk circled up out of the trees, a big female. It looked very different from the Common Buzzards, pale silvery grey above, and almost white below, and a very different shape. It had puffed out its white undertail coverts, and they were wrapped round the base of its tail, so it almost looked like it had a white rump. It started to display, flying across with deep, exaggerated wing beats.

Goshawk 1

Goshawk – came up and started displaying, with its white undertail coverts puffed out

The Goshawk was up for some time, displaying across to the left of us, then stopping to circle for a bit. Then it flew back right displaying again, circling again a couple of times in front of us, before it continued off behind the trees. It was a great show, well worth the wait!

It was time for lunch now, so we drove down to Brandon Country Park to use the facilities. We enjoyed lunch outside on the picnic tables, in the sunshine. A Nuthatch was calling in the trees and we could hear both Coal Tits and Great Tits singing, two different variations on the squeaky bicycle pump theme.

After lunch, we had a quick walk down to the lake. There were lots of Mallard out on the grass, and as we got got closer we could see some Mandarin Ducks in with them, including several smart drakes. They looked rather out of place, here on the lawns. There were a few more Mandarins on the water – we counted fourteen in total.


Mandarin Ducks – we counted fourteen on the lake and lawn

The trees down by the lake were rather quiet today, and we knew we needed to get back to Lynford promptly – the Hawfinches have been disappearing early recently. The car park at Lynford was almost full. We met some people we knew, who said most of the Hawfinches had flown off, and the remaining birds had been very flighty, so we walked quickly down to the paddocks to look for them. We tried not to get distracted on the way, but we did take a quick look at a Brambling under the trees from the gate.

As we got to the paddocks, we could see several people looking intently through their scopes. The Hawfinches were back, feeding in the grass under one of the trees in the middle. We got them in our scopes, and could see several there, but they were hard to count in the long vegetation. There were some in the hornbeam above too. Then something spooked them and they flew, we counted at least 25 in total, as they came up from ground and lots flew out of the middle of the tree.

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – there were several feeding under one of the trees

Some of the Hawfinches appeared to land in the top of the next hornbeam over, so we walked down to where we could see it through a gap in the hedge. We got a nice male in the scope now, perched in the top, and counted at least four together there. One by one they flew, landing in the ash trees next, where they were much harder to see in the tangle of branches. Then they all disappeared too.

One female Hawfinch flew back in, and landed back in the very top of the first hornbeam. We had a great view of it now, in the low afternoon light. We admired its enormous cherry stone cracker of a bill!

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – this female flew back in and posed in the top of one of the hornbeams

We were glad we had hurried straight down to the paddocks, and now we had seen the Hawfinches we walked back to the bridge. There were several Siskins feeding up in the alders above – having heard several flying over earlier, it was nice now to get a proper look at some. There were lots of tits coming to the food put out on the bridge, including several Marsh Tits and Long-tailed Tits. One or two Nuthatches darted in and out. A male Reed Bunting flew in and landed in a tree by the lake.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – coming down to food put out on the bridge

Along the path on the way back, we stopped to look at the Tawny Owl which was roosting in its usual tree. It was hard to see unless you got in just the right place. We managed to find a spot to get the scopes on it, perched up high, tucked in right next to the trunk.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual tree

We stopped again back at the gate. There were loads of birds coming down to feed in the leaves. We could see several Bramblings now, including a couple of smart looking males with bright orange shoulders. We counted at least sixteen Yellowhammers too, in amongst the throng of tits and Chaffinches.


Brambling – coming to feed on the food put down in front of the gate

Continuing on past the car park, we walked out to the gravel pits the other side. There were lots of Tufted Ducks on the back of the first pit, along with several Coots, a pair of Great Crested Grebes and a Cormorant. A Little Egret was in the reeds on the back edge.

Making our way round the second pit, three Goosanders appeared under the trees on the far side, two males and a redhead female. There were more Tufted Ducks here, a small flock of Teal flew up, two Canada Geese were honking noisily on the platform, and a couple of Grey Herons flew over.


Goosander – one of three on the pits this afternoon

It was time to head back now, after a very successful visit to the Brecks. But we were all looking forward to another day out tomorrow.

6th Mar 2019 – Back to the Brecks

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

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


Bramblings – coming down to the ground under the feeders

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

Grey Wagtails

Grey Wagtail – a pair, feeding along the river

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Buzzard

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

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

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

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


Firecrest – singing in the trees

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Crossbill 1

Common Crossbill – the male, feeding in the larches

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

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

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the fir trees again

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

Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – coming down to drink

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

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

15th & 16th Feb 2018 – Double Brecks

A two-day Private Tour in the Brecks. We were forecast a couple of days of good weather and so it proved. It almost didn’t seem like mid February at times! It was a great time to be out and about birdwatching in the Brecks.

Thursday 15th February

There was still a bit of cloud lingering when we met down in the Brecks this morning. Thankfully, it quickly blew through and we were left with almost wall to wall blue sky and sunshine. It was still cool though, particularly as the breeze picked up mid morning.

It seemed like a good morning to go looking for Goshawks. On our way, we made a quick stop along a quiet lane. One of the fields here has been sown with a seed mix and was alive with birds. As we got out of the car, we could hear a Yellowhammer calling from the hedge.

A large flock of Linnets swirled round and landed up in the trees on the edge of the field, chattering away. In among the Chaffinches perched in the bushes, enjoying the morning sun, we found several Bramblings, duller females and bright orange-breasted males. There were Goldfinches too, and a couple of Reed Buntings which flew out of the crop and landed in the hedge by the road.


Brambling – several were on the edge of a field of seed mix this morning

Suddenly all the birds erupted from the crop and flew round calling. We looked across to see a Sparrowhawk, a small adult male, flying low over the field. It didn’t catch anything, but having flushed everything then circled up and drifted off, with bursts of fast flapping interspersed with characteristic glides.

There were a few pools behind the hedge on the other side of road, so we had a quick look to see if anything was on those. There was a surprisingly good selection of wildfowl – as well as Mallards and four Greylag Geese, there were several Teal, a couple of pairs of Gadwall and a single drake Shoveler. A Grey Heron was standing in the sunshine at the back of the water, but flew off as we walked up.

It was starting to warm up, so we headed over to see what the Goshawks were up to. We had not even got the scopes set up when a young male appeared, flying across low over the trees. We had a good look at it through binoculars, before it dropped back down out of view. Then Goshawks were on view pretty much constantly, with at least five different individuals this morning.

Next an adult male Goshawk flew low along the front edge of the wood, before disappearing into the trees and sending all the pigeons out! A few seconds later, it appeared again, circling low over the shelter belt to one side. It disappeared once more behind the trees and the next time we picked it up it came in high from behind us, dropping back towards the wood, stooping sharply at the end and disappearing into the pines.


Goshawk – one of the adults circled in front of us

A pair of Goshawks was displaying for some time off in the distance. They were easy to see with the scope, slow flapping with exaggerated wingbeats high above the forest. Then a big adult female Goshawk appeared much closer, off to our right, circling low over the tops of the trees. It kept disappearing behind the tops, then reappearing again, never gaining any great height. Presumably it was hunting, as it never seemed to break into any display activity. Eventually it dropped down again out of view.

There were lots of other raptors on view here, even when we weren’t distracted by the Goshawks. Two Red Kites hung in the air over the strip of trees behind us. As the air warmed a little, several Common Buzzards came up and started circling. We counted at least eight today, and some of them even started displaying, swooping up and down like a rollercoaster. A Kestrel hovered out over the grass too. As well as the raptors, there were Skylarks singing and a small group of Fieldfares tchacking in the tops of trees behind us.

You could spend the whole day here, watching the comings and goings, but eventually we decided to move on. We went to look for Woodlarks next. As we pulled up by a ride into the forest, a flock of Bullfinches flew out of the brambles next to the road and disappeared behind the trees. As soon as we got out of the car, we could hear a Woodlark singing. We walked up the track a short way and looked across to see it perched high in the top of a tree out in the middle of the clearing. The Woodlark took off, but just flew across and landed again in another tree, still singing, where we could get it in the scope and have a good look at it.


Woodlark – singing from the top of one of the trees in the clearing

As we walked further up the track, another Woodlark appeared, perched in the top of a different tree singing. It took off as we approached and flew round singing – showing off its short tail and rounded wings, and its fluttering display flight. Eventually it dropped down into the middle of the clearing and promptly disappeared into the vegetation.

A little further along, we came across a tit flock feeding on the sunny edge of a block of pines. There were lots of restless Long-tailed Tits, accompanied by several Blue and Great Tits. A pair of Marsh Tits were feeding low down in the dry grass at the base of the trees, given away by their sneezing calls. A Goldcrest appeared, flitting around in one of the trees by the path. A smart male Bullfinch flew across in front of us and landed in the bare branches of a bush the other side.

There were a few more raptors here too, but perhaps not as much activity as we might have expected, given all the birds we had seen earlier. One more Goshawk showed itself very briefly and distantly. The Common Buzzard was much more obliging, flying across the clearing and even hovering briefly out in the middle. A pair of Kestrels showed it how it should really be done!

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – one of several up in the sunshine this morning

We walked on further round and into the forest. Several Redwings flew up from the grass by the path and disappeared into the trees. We could see several more feeding in the ivy covering a tree in the sun on the edge further in.

There were lots of tits on the sunny edge of the pines – Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits and a couple more Marsh Tits too. A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew out of the plantation into the deciduous trees the other side of the path, accompanied by a Goldcrest and a Treecreeper. We heard both Great Spotted Woodpecker and Green Woodpecker calling.

It was time for lunch now, so we headed back round to the car. Our destination for most of the afternoon was to be Lynford, but on our way we drove round via some pig fields. There were lots of gulls out on the mud among the pigs – mostly Black-headed and Common Gulls. A couple of adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls were hiding in with them and a single 1st winter Great Black-backed Gull perched on one of the pig arcs.

There were lots of Jackdaws and Rooks in the pig fields too, and a huge flock of Starlings – presumably some we would be seeing later in the day! A Red-legged Partridge was hiding in the winter wheat in the next field and a pair of Egyptian Geese flew over.

As we walked out along the path beside the Arboretum at Lynford, we stopped to have a look from the gate. There were lots of tits on the feeders, and more coming down to drink at the stone trough. Several Chaffinches were picking around down in the leaves, and a single Brambling was in with them.

Down at the bridge, there was not much seed out today. Still there were lots of tits coming to feed on the leftovers. We had particularly good views of Marsh Tit here, always a good spot for this localised species. Several Siskins were twittering in the alders above.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – showed well down at the bridge

When we got to the paddocks, there was no sign of any Hawfinches feeding here today. There were several Greenfinches in the trees. A flock of twenty or so Redwings flew across and landed in the hawthorns, where we got one of them in the scope. A Mistle Thrush perched in one of the hornbeams, enjoying the afternoon sun, where it was joined by a second which flew across from the pines behind us. We could hear a Song Thrush singing.

As we walked on round the paddocks, we spotted a Hawfinch high in the fir trees, sunning itself in among the cones. It dropped down, but shortly what was presumably the same bird flew back in again and landed in the very top of the same tree. Here, we had a great view of it through the scope, noting its huge bill and head, the white tip to its tail and, when it spread its wings to stretch, the white wing bar.


Hawfinch – showed well in fir trees by paddocks

Eventually the Hawfinch flew off. There was nothing else of note in the trees here today, so we walked back and round by the lake. A Reed Bunting flew up into the bushes by the path as we passed. We heard another Song Thrush singing and eventually managed to track it down, in the alders at the back of the lake, just to complete the set of thrushes for the day!

Standing looking across to the back of Lynford Hall, we heard another Hawfinch calling from the other side of the lake. We had just started scanning the trees to see if we could find it when it flew out, across the lake and over our heads before disappearing off in the direction of the paddocks.

A Little Grebe seemed to be laughing at us, until we spotted it, wrestling with a small fish behind the island. There were several Gadwall on the lake too – the most underrated of ducks, and always worthy of a closer look. There were a couple of Greylag and a few Canada Geese too.


Gadwall – a very smart, intricately patterned drake

The light was starting to go now, so we set off back to the car. As we drove up towards Swaffham, we could see thousands of Starlings swirling in the skies above the town. They were fairly spread out tonight, in several different groups, and hard to count – but there must have been 20,000 birds at least!

The Starlings spent ages whirling round in the sky, flying backwards and forwards, working up the courage to come in to roost. Quite a lot went down over towards the town centre tonight, before some of the others finally started to come down into the bushes in front of us. It was mesmerising watching the flocks, like watching fireworks, bursting. in the sky as they swirled. Amazing to watch!

Starling murmuration

Starling – thousands coming in to roost tonight

It was almost dark and most of the Starlings seemed to have gone in already when the ones from the town centre started to fly up again and came over to join the others in the trees in front of us, wave upon wave of them appeared out of the gloom, it seemed like it would never end. As it finally settled down again, there was an amazing amount of excited chattering from the trees. What a great way to end our first day.

Friday 16th February

After a light frost overnight, it was crisp and fresh this morning but with sunshine and blue skies, a cracking winter’s day. The winds were lighter too, compared to yesterday, so it didn’t feel so cold.

We started the day with a walk along the river. We could hear a male Grey Wagtail singing under the bridge as we approached and we then watched the pair flying back and forth over the river, perching on the brick walls and some drainage pipes.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – singing underneath the bridge this morning

There were several Mute Swans and Little Grebes swimming and diving on the river as we walked along. We could hear a Redwing calling and looked up to see it perched high in the treetops in the sunshine. There were lots of Siskins twittering from deep in the alders, and we managed to see a couple flying back and forth across the river. A couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were drumming and a Green Woodpecker yaffled from the trees, always a good sign along here.

They were not the woodpeckers we were really hoping for, but as we rounded the bend in the river we could hear two Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers calling. We found a couple of people with scopes and cameras already there, and we were told one had just been showing in the tops of the trees but had dropped back down out of sight.

Thankfully, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker continued to call occasionally and we could follow the sound. After a nail-biting few minutes when we weren’t sure whether it would show itself again, the female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew out and landed high in a bare poplar in front of us. We got it the scope and had a good look at it, the black and white barred back and the black crown of the female. It showed very well for us in the poplars for several minutes, flying between the trees, before it flew back into denser birches behind. We heard it call again much further in.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – this female showed very well in the poplars

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker then went quiet for a time. There were several other birds to look at in the interim – a Goshawk appeared through the tops of the trees before heading off over the river. There were lots of tits singing – spring must be just around the corner now – including a coupe of Marsh Tits.

Then we heard the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call again further along the river. It was still well back in the trees, but we hurried along to see if it would come out again. We were just in time, as the female flew out over our heads, over the river, and dropped down further back in the trees the other side.

Having had such great views of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, we decided to walk back and try our luck with something else. On the way, we heard a Water Rail squealing from the wet reedy vegetation under the trees. A Woodlark was singing too, in the distance from a clearing in the forest beside the river.

Back at the bridge, we made our way up a small path through the trees to the churchyard. It was quiet here at first, even in the churchyard despite the sunshine on the firs here. We did head a Goldcrest singing and saw it flitting around in the tops. It was busier on the open side by the road. We found more tits and a noisy pair of Nuthatches which piped loudly at us from the trees.

What we had hoped to find here was a Firecrest and it did eventually appear. Unfortunately it was only very brief, moving through the vegetation very quickly, before it disappeared high up into the trees and we lost sight of it. Despite searching, we couldn’t find it again.

The Parrot Crossbills at Santon Downham have become very elusive again in recent days. We drove round to the car park where they sometimes come down to drink, but there had been no sign of them all morning again. There were lots of people waiting here, so we decided to try somewhere else.

The Parrot Crossbills have also been seen in the car park at St Helen’s before, so we decided to look round there. We have seen them come down to drink at the river here, so we had a walk along the bank but it was all very quiet. Given the complete absence of any sightings of Parrot Crossbills at either site this morning, we decided we would give up on them and try something else. We were just walking back towards the car, discussing what to do next, when we heard chipping calls and looked up to see 15-20 Parrot Crossbills flying past.

They seemed to be heading down towards the river, right where we had just been looking. We rushed back, and found the flock of Parrot Crossbills in the poplars. We could hear them calling and subsinging as we approached and looked up to see several perched in the branches above our heads, in the sunshine. We got the scope on them and had a great look, two red-orange males and a grey-green female. We could see their huge crossed bills and thickset bull necks.

Parrot Crossbill

Parrot Crossbill – perched subsinging in the branches above us

Several of the Parrot Crossbills dropped down into the alders the other side of the river. They were clearly working up the courage to come down to drink, perching in the trees around us calling for ten or more minutes. Slowly more followed the others into the tops of the alders and eventually they started to drop lower through the branches. Finally they flew down onto the river bank on the far side, two or three at a time, to drink.

Parrot Crossbills

Parrot Crossbills – came down to drink on the far side of the river

We got the Parrot Crossbills in the scope as they landed down on the far bank and watched as they each gulped down a few beak-fulls, then quickly flying up to be replaced by a couple more. What a magic moment! Eventually, when it appeared that most had drunk their fill, as quickly as they had arrived the whole flock flew off north-west. We had counted at least 15 in the trees, but there seemed to be as many as 18 as they flew off.

Well satisfied with the encounter, we headed round to Lakenheath Fen next, for lunch. After a bite to eat, we headed out to the reserve. At the feeders by the visitor centre, there were lots of tits and Reed Buntings. We decided to head out to the Washland viewpoint first.

When we got up onto the bank, the first thing we saw were two Whooper Swans out on Hockwold Washes. Through the scope, we could see the wedge shaped patch of yellow on their bills. There were lots of ducks too – Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. A few Tufted Ducks were diving down on the river in front of us. A Curlew flew up fro the fields beyond and circled round calling.

Whooper Swans 1

Whooper Swans – these two were out on Hockwold Washes

Another big white shape at the back of the Washland revealed itself to be a Great White Egret. Through the scope, we could see its long yellow dagger-like bill. As a fisherman approached along the far bank, the Great White Egret flew off east, but shortly after what we assumed was the same bird flew back west, high over the river. We watched it dropping away round the back of the poplars towards New Fen, but then when we looked back at the far corner of the Washes, there was a Great White Egret, exactly where the first had been. Could there have been two?

Great White Egret 1

Great White Egret – feeding at the back of Hockwold Washes

There was a family at the Washland viewpoint too and they spotted a small bird creeping around among the wet grass on the near bank of the river. It was a Water Pipit – through the scope, we could see its pale supercilium and black-streaked white underparts. Another Water Pipit flew across and disappeared into the vegetation on the other side and we heard a third calling away to our right.

We walked on west along the riverbank. We had been warned it was muddy – and they weren’t wrong(!) – but we picked our way carefully along. There were lots of birds along here, particularly a surprising number of Stonechats. We must have seen at least six, perching up on the dead thistles and seedheads in the grass. There were lots of Cetti’s Warblers too, though they were much less obliging, calling from deep in the bushes. A flock of Fieldfares flew towards us across the river and over our heads.


Stonechat – we saw a surprising number along the river today

There were lots of Canada Geese and Greylag Geese feeding on the grass either side along the river. They were mostly sorted into separate flocks, but an odd looking bird with one of the groups of Greylags was a Canada x Greylag Goose hybrid.

A Little Egret was feeding on the edge of the river, much smaller, with an all dark bill. Then we looked up to see two Great White Egrets flying together, heading back east the way we had just come, towards the Washland. We had certainly seen two Great White Egrets now!

Great White Egret 2

Great White Egret – two flew along the river together

The Whooper Swans roost in the winter on the Washes but feed during the day in the fields. Once we got beyond the West Wood, we heard more Whooper Swans calling and looked across to see a family party flying in from the south. They flew across behind us, over the river, before dropping down towards the fields beyond.

As we walked on west, more Whooper Swans flew across, looking stunning in the afternoon light. It is a great sound, the honking of winter swans on a sunny February afternoon in the Fens. When we got round the bend in the river and could see across to the fields the other side, we could see a huge long line of white shapes gathered in the distance. Through the scope, we could see they were all Whooper Swans, at least 100 of them and probably much more as many were hidden behind the trees.

Whooper Swans 2

Whooper Swans – flying across to gather on the north side of the river

There was no sign of the Cranes on the far side of the river today, but it was possibly just too disturbed over there now. A couple of vehicles were driving up and down the track and we could see a man pigeon shooting, tending to his decoys on the edge of the area where the Cranes often like to feed. A distant Grey Heron was not the right shape or shade of grey!

Another Great White Egret flew up from the marshes across the river – presumably a third bird, as we had watched the other two flying off the other way. There were lots of Lapwings in the fields and three distant Roe Deer too. A Chiffchaff called from somewhere in the reeds nearby.

On the walk back, we cut in across the reserve. We had a sit down at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, a quick rest before the long return journey. It was a glorious winter’s afternoon, still and delightfully tranquil just sitting and looking out across the vast expanse of reeds (at least the F16s from Lakenheath were not flying overhead at that stage!). Several Marsh Harriers quartered low over the reeds and three Common Buzzards circled up over the trees.

It would have been very easy just to sit and watch the reeds and contemplate for hours, but it was getting on now so we reluctantly tore ourselves away. As we walked back along the path, flocks of gulls were flying overhead, heading off to roost. A female Kestrel perched up in the poplars in the late sunshine, but almost every time we got within range and lifted the cameras, she flew off a short distance, refusing to be photographed!


Kestrel – was refusing to be photographed on the walk back

Back at the Visitor Centre, a Bank Vole was scuttling around under the feeders. It hid in a hole in the vegetation and darted out repeatedly. Then it found a discarded crisp on the ground and hauled it back into the hole. That was the last we saw of it – presumably it was enjoying the crisp!

It was time to head for home now. It had been a great couple of days in the Brecks, with some fantastic weather and some exciting birds, all the best the area has to offer at this time of year.

5th March 2016 – Early Rain Didn’t Stop Play

A Brecks Tour today. Unfortunately, the weather forecast had deteriorated through the latter part of the week and the Met Office predictions took another turn for the worse late yesterday evening. There were warnings for ice overnight, rain, sleet and snow all day, plague, pestilence, the end of the world was nigh, etc. Some of the tour participants were understandably getting concerned. However, as we have seen particularly in recent weeks, the Met Office is frequently very wrong.

A closer look at the fine details revealed a lot of uncertainty in the forecast concerning the timing and pace of progression of the weather front heading our way. The forecast had it moving steadily east and then stopping over East Anglia, which always looked rather unlikely – but who are we to argue with a multi-million pound forecasting supercomputer! With our reassurances that it was worth going out anyway, as we can see birds in any weather, and a chink of improvement in the forecast again overnight, we met up in the morning at Lynford arboretum.

It was damp and spitting with rain on arrival (although no sign of the overnight ice we were promised). As we walked down the path into the arboretum, we could hear a Nuthatch piping from the trees. A Goldcrest was singing and a pair of Siskins was zooming around the treetops. Both Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush were singing too, great to hear both.

We made our way to the gate to have a look at the feeders. There was still no sign that they have been refilled since our last visit, but there was quite a lot of seed spread on the ground today. Lots of birds were taking advantage of it, particularly the tits. A steady stream of Coal Tits flew down in front of us. A Marsh Tit kept darting in further back, grabbing a seed before making a quick getaway for the safety of the trees. It was nice to see the two species together and look at the key differences between them. A Nuthatch also made frequent forays down to the seed and nuts.

NuthatchNuthatch – a recent photo taken on the feeders

There were a few Chaffinches on the ground too, but no sign of any Hawfinches here again. They have not been seen under the trees here with any frequency this year – perhaps they are finding more food elsewhere or they have been put off by increased netting and ringing activity here. We decided to have a walk round the rest of the arboretum to see if we could find any of them there. A Treecreeper worked its way up one of the trees right in front before flying on ahead of us. We watched it scaling a couple of trees, before flying back down to the base of the next one along.

Then it started to rain. We made our way quickly back to the entrance and found a shelter to stand under, hoping that it would pass. While we stood there, we talked a little about the history of the Breckland and Thetford Forest, and the origins of Lynford Arboretum. It was at this point that the two of the participants who had been concerned by the weather forecast last night decided that it wasn’t for them – an understandable decision, under the circumstances. The rest of the group decided to carry on and try to make the best of it.

It wasn’t long before the rain seemed to ease, so we had another go at walking round the arboretum, but almost immediately it started raining harder again. We decided that a change of plan was in order. We made our way quickly back to the car and headed over to Lakenheath Fen. We were only half way there when we drove out from under the darker clouds and the rain stopped. Having warmed up and dried out in the car, we thought we should  make the most of the improvement to walk straight out to the Washland viewpoint to see what we could see.

The river level was very high and had flooded over onto the washes either side. Lots of ducks had spilled out across the river and took off as we walked up onto the bank – Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler and Tufted Duck. We had a look at them through the scope as they landed over on Hockwold Washes, the drakes looking very smart at this time of the year. A pair of Great Crested Grebes resplendent in summer plumage were sailing along the river.

Three or four pipits also flew up from the flooded vegetation in front of us calling and when they landed we could see they were Water Pipits. Unfortunately, they just wouldn’t stay still long enough for everyone to get a look at them through the scope, and kept scuttling out of view into the edge of the wet reeds.

There are a couple of Great White Egrets around the reserve at the moment, but they are not always along the river. The first egret we saw was much smaller – hunched up in on the bank on the edge of the river channel, a Little Egret. However, when we turned to look back along the river towards the road, a much larger white bird flew up briefly. When it landed again, we got it in the scope and could see its long, dagger-like yellow bill – one of the Great White Egrets. A stroke of luck to find it here today.

We started to make our way along the bank for a closer view, but before we had gone very far the Great White Egret took off again. This time it flew right across in front of us, over Hockwold Washes and landed behind the reeds on the other side. We had great flight views as it passed us by.

P1170875Great White Egret – along the river from the Washland Viewpoint

Looking back from where it had come, we could see why it had flown. A narrowboat was making its way along the river towards us, flushing everything as it went. The Great White Egret flew again, away over towards the reserve this time. The Water Pipits all scattered and the remaining ducks fled over to the back of the Washes too. The bonus was four Snipe which it flushed too as it came past.

With most of the birds having flown off, we decided to make our way back to the visitor centre for the hot drinks which we had promised ourselves on the drive over. While we were enjoying those, we spent some time watching the feeders outside the windows. There were lots of Reed Buntings as usual and we had a closer look at the differences between males and females.

P1170871Reed Bunting – there were lots around the feeders

There were plenty of Goldfinches, Chaffinches and a Greenfinch or two as well. A pair of Siskin dropped in to feed on the bird table, allowing us great close-up views from the warmth of the visitor centre through the window. An interesting looking tit darted in quickly – probably just a Marsh Tit, though appearing rather richly coloured and thick-necked – but unfortunately we just got a glimpse of it and it didn’t return while we were there.

P1170923Siskins & Goldfinch – on the bird table from the visitor centre

With the weather still dry, and having warmed up nicely now, we decided to head back out to the forest and resume our plan for the day. There has been a Great Grey Shrike around the area for the winter, but it is very mobile and can be hard to find. We decided to chance our luck at one of its favoured sites on our way back. We walked down along the path to the edge of the clearing and found a spot from where we could scan the bushes. Half obscured from where we were standing, through the vegetation, we could see a grey shape on the top of a small hawthorn. We repositioned ourselves so we could get a clear view across and there was the Great Grey Shrike.

We had a great look at the Great Grey Shrike through the scope, looking strikingly pale from a distance, with silvery grey upperparts and bright white below, but with contrasting black wings and a black bandit mask. It flew across between bushes a couple of times, generally landing on the top or another good vantage point from which it could scan the ground below for prey – often beetles here, but also small mammals or even small birds if they are available.

IMG_9251Great Grey Shrike – back in its favoured clearing today

While we were standing there, we could hear a Woodlark singing. It flew towards us over the trees, fluttering its broad wings and came straight over our heads. We could see the very short tail. The Woodlark’s song has a sad and mournful quality to it, though every bit as beautiful as the more joyful Skylark which started singing a few moments later. The Woodlark flew back away over the trees. So, having enjoyed good views of the Great Grey Shrike, we decided to try another site to find a Woodlark on the ground.

As we walked out along the forest track, all seemed quiet at first, but then a Woodlark starting singing. It flew across the path in front of us and then appeared to land further along. As we walked further, it suddenly flew up again and over our heads singing, before landing on the short grass just behind us. We got it in the scope and had a goo look at it, noting the pale supercilia joining in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck, before a walker coming towards us along the path flushed it again. Having enjoyed the Woodlark’s songflight earlier, it was great to see one on the ground too.

WoodlarkWoodlark – a recent photo taken in the forest

After a break for a late lunch, we decided to return to Lynford Arboretum to have a good go at catching up with a Hawfinch. We didn’t linger long by the feeders this time, but headed straight down towards the paddocks. Someone had sprinkled lots of food – crumbs, nuts and seeds – on the posts and pillars of the bridge and lots of birds were coming in to feed, including several Siskins and several Marsh Tits. Again, we didn’t hang around too long, just in case.

It was a good think we didn’t. We had just arrived at the paddocks and started to scan the trees in the middle for any signs of activity when we noticed a shape in the very top of one of the pine trees behind. We got it in the scope and confirmed our suspicions – a Hawfinch. We all got a good look at it before it dropped down out of view.

HawfinchHawfinch – here’s one from the other day in the same place

As it was still relatively early, we thought a Hawfinch might drop back down into the paddocks, so we waited a while there. There was lots more activity around the trees in front of us. A couple of Jays perched up enjoying the afternoon sun – for there were even some breaks in the cloud this afternoon, despite the Met Office’s direst predictions.

IMG_9257Jay – enjoying the afternoon sun!

There were also lots of thrushes on offer. A Song Thrush was singing from the top of one of the ash trees, so we had a good look at that in the scope. Then a Mistle Thrush appeared in the top of one of the other trees for a convenient comparison. A sharp-eyed member of the group spotted a little group of thrushes over the other side of the paddocks and in with the Blackbirds and Song Thrushes a single Redwing perched preening in the sunshine.

IMG_9295Mistle Thrush – in the top of one of the trees in the paddocks

There is often a Kestrel around the paddocks too, and today she spent the time hunting from the telegraph wires which cross the paddocks, dropping down periodically to the grass below.

IMG_9292Kestrel – hunting from the wires across the paddocks

There was still no more sign of any more Hawfinches, so we had a walk round to check the tops of the trees on the sunny side, which was more sheltered from the wind. Nothing there, so we decided to head back. We scanned the tops of the trees as we walked, but it was only when we got almost back to the bridge that we noticed a large bird in the tops of the pines. A quick look through the scope confirmed it was another Hawfinch before it too dropped down out of view.

We made a quick tour of the arboretum, getting a good look at a singing Goldcrest in the process. We then finished off with a quick visit to the old gravel pits the other side of the car park. No sign of the Goosander there today, but we did see a little group of five Goldeneye, two pairs of Great Crested Grebe and a single Oystercatcher on the tern platform. A Kingfisher flashed across the water, unfortunately too quickly for most of the group to get onto it. Then it was time to call it a day.

Despite the early inclement weather and the best efforts of the Met Office to put us off, we had actually enjoyed a very successful day’s birding – with good views of Great Grey Shrike, Hawfinch, Woodlark and Great White Egret, to name but a few highlights, as well as an excellent supporting cast of woodland and wetland birds.

It just goes to show two things:

  1. It is always worth coming out birding, whatever the weather forecast; and
  2. Never trust the Met Office’s best predictions!

21st February 2016 – Back to the Brecks

Day 3 of another three day long weekend of tours today and we headed for the Brecks to wrap up the weekend. It had been forecast earlier in the week to be wet and windy again today, but although it was certainly the latter by the afternoon, it stayed totally dry today. Once again, the rain missed us completely.

We started with a quick walk round the arboretum at Lynford. As we set out from the car park, we could hear Nuthatch calling and Goldcrests singing. Both Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush were also in full song. A few Siskins zipped in and out of the trees. Just about the first birds we saw were a couple of Marsh Tits.

We walked up to the gate to have a look under the trees. The feeders were empty again and it didn’t look like they had been filled again since last weekend. There were still a few birds around. A Nuthatch was in and out repeatedly to the home-made ‘downpipe’ feeder. This seemed to be the last one with any food left in it. A Coal Tit had a novel approach and actually climbed into the feeder through one of the large holes, which had been opened up by the teeth of the local squirrels, presumably getting down into the bottom to get access to the few remaining seeds in there.

IMG_8233Nuthatch – only the ‘downpipe’ feeder appeared to have any food left

Once again, there was no sign of any Hawfinches here. They have only been seen here very occasionally this winter and it is not entirely clear why. It may be down to greater availability of food elsewhere in the forest after a mild winter, but it could also be that increased ringing activity and repeated attempts to catch the Hawfinches in order to colour ring them has only succeeded in disturbing them here. We could see all the ringing paraphernalia through the trees at the back, net posts and hides covered in camouflage netting, in the area the Hawfinches used to favour.

We had a quick walk round the rest of the arboretum,  but it was rather cold and quiet deeper in the trees. There was also lots of noise and disturbance, with loads of cars and people arriving to join one of the regular working parties here today. With a bit of brightness in the sky, we wanted to make sure we were in good time for the Goshawks today, so we didn’t linger here.

We made our way deeper into the Forest and walked out along one of the rides. It was typically quiet down through the dark stands of dense pines which make up the commercial forestry. As we got to the clearing, there was more life. We could hear birds singing – Woodlarks. They have a sadder, more melancholic song than the Skylark, which rings out across the forest clearings at this time of year.

We could see two Woodlarks perched up on a fence further along, so after a quick look through the scope we made our way over for a better look. Unfortunately, a cyclist came along the track before we could get there and the Woodlarks were off. Another two came up from the edge of the path and they dropped down into the grass the other side of the fence.

We walked over to the fence anyway and started to scan the trees beyond. A Common Buzzard flew low over the trees and landed in the tops. Then a Goshawk appeared from the trees nearby and started displaying above them, with exaggerated wingbeats. The next thing we knew, the female was up too and displaying as well. We could see the size difference between them, the male noticeably smaller when seen in the same view.

GoshawkGoshawk – a photo of one of the birds taken recently

The pair of Goshawks flew round for a while, both looking even more powerful than usual with the extra deep and slow flapping of display flight. As it passed over the trees, the male Goshawk suddenly noticed the Buzzard sitting in the top of a pine below him. He turned and dropped down vertically straight at it, pulling up at the last minute, then climbed up again above it. When he had regained some height, the Goshawk folded its wings and stooped down vertically again, this time almost knocking the Buzzard off its perch.

We watched the male Goshawk then fly off, low along the line of trees. He had stopped displaying now, but we could still appreciate the power in his wingbeats as he flew past. Needless to say, when we looked back the Buzzard had gone. Goshawks are known to kill Buzzards at times, so it had obviously decided to make itself scarce!

We turned our attention back to the Woodlarks. We had seen a pair drop back down on our side of the fence and a male was singing from the ground a bit further along from us. We got it in the scope quickly, getting a good look at the way the two supercilia, the pale stripes above the eye, meet in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck. Then it circled up and flew back out across the clearing singing. It dropped down to the ground a good distance away on its own. A little while later, when it circled up again, we could hear the female Woodlark calling quietly, still near to where it had been perched earlier. We soon located her on the ground and had a good look at her through the scope before she flew off across the clearing towards him.

WoodlarkWoodlark – a photo of one of the pair taken recently

We had hoped for some more action from the Goshawks, but while we were standing there the wind had strengthened considerably and once the Woodlarks had flown off it all went a little quiet. The female Goshawk did circle up again briefly above the trees, but never gained much height and dropped down again out of view fairly quickly. The group was keen to keep moving, so we decided to walk back.

Despite the blustery wind, it was a decidedly mild day. A large queen Bumblebee flew across the clearing while we were standing there and a Common Toad crawled across the ride on our way back. Clearly spring is just around the corner, although we are still forecast at least one more cold snap yet.

P1170662Common Toad – on its way somewhere across the ride

We had hoped to catch up with the Great Grey Shrike today, but it has become decidedly erratic in its appearances in recent weeks. With a short time to spare before lunch, we thought it worth a shot and had a quick walk round the edge of one of its favoured clearings. It was a bit windy out there and perhaps unsurprisingly there was no sign of it. A pair of Stonechats were keeping low down in the bushes in the most sheltered corner.

We had lunch round at Santon Downham. While we were eating, a flock of Redpolls flew over the car park and landed in the trees beyond. We got them in the scope and confirmed they were all Lesser Redpolls. They were very mobile, and kept circling round and landing in the the tops of different trees.

IMG_8247Lesser Redpolls – a flock of nine landed in the treetops at lunchtime

After lunch, we had a quick walk down along the side of the river. A couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew out of the trees by the bridge and a Green Woodpecker called from deep in the woods further along. A Treecreeper was feeding low down on the trees beside the path, flying ahead of us as we walked along. A Little Grebe was diving along the far edge. Otherwise, it was rather quiet along here this afternoon.

A dog came running down the opposite bank and leapt down to the water’s edge to bark at a family of Mute Swans on the river. The swans were decidedly unimpressed and the two adults swam in front of the juveniles and hissed at he dog, which seemed to change its mind about jumping into the water after them. A minute or so later, its owner appeared calling it and the dog ran off again.

P1170667Mute Swans – the adults saw off a dog which came after them

We didn’t go very far, but decided to head round to Lynford again to try our luck there instead. As we walked down along the path, the feeders were pretty deserted. Down at the bridge, someone had put lots of food on the posts as usual and a variety of tits were coming down to feed. As well as the Blue Tits and Great Tits, there were several Marsh Tits and Coal Tits darting in and out. A Nuthatch was calling but would not come out with us standing there, and we could hear Siskins in the alders nearby.

We carried on to the paddocks in the hope of catching up with a Hawfinch, but it was rather exposed out in the trees with the wind whistling through now and all was disappointingly quiet. We stood and scanned for a while, in the hope that a Hawfinch might be feeding on the ground below and fly up into the trees, but it was clearly not to be. However, while we were waiting we heard one call. A quick look over to our right and we saw that a Hawfinch was flying in across the back of the paddocks from the direction of the arboretum. We watched it fly across in front of the pines and then it turned and flew up towards them. We thought it was going to land in the pines, but unfortunately it dropped down vertically and disappeared into the trees.

We walked round that way in the hope that we might be able to find it perched somewhere, or that it might have another fly round. But the tops of the pines were being whipped back and forth by the gusty wind now and it had obviously decided to seek shelter lower down. We waited a few minutes in the hope that another Hawfinch might fly in, but there was just the one today. We decided to call it a day.

7th April 2015 – Brilliant Brecks

Another Brecks Tour today. The weather was glorious – the early mist burnt off quickly and it was mostly sun and blue skies, with just some hazy cloud at times. Perfect for Brecks birding.

Our first stop was for Stone Curlews. We picked them up from the car, before we even pulled up – two of them standing in a recently sown arable field. We parked up round the corner and walked back quietly, so we could get them in the scope through a gap in the hedge. A great start.

P1020900Stone Curlew – a pair in a recently sown arable field

It got even better. While we watched them, the male Stone Curlew started to display, bowing slowly to the female with tail raised high. We watched them for some time walking around in the field.

We drove on and stopped by a tall, old Hawthorn hedge. We could hear a couple of Tree Sparrows cheeping, and see them hopping around in the bushes, but we were looking into the sun. We walked round to the other side and could see one perched up on top. It flew across in front of us and landed high up in an oak tree. Nice birds to see, as they are getting increasingly scarce.

We wanted to get to Lynford Arboretum before it got too busy and there was only one other car in the car park when we arrived. As we walked across to the Arboretum, there were lots of birds singing – Marsh Tit, Siskin, Nuthatch and Goldcrest. A Mistle Thrush flew into the trees. We walked up to the gate and stopped to watch the Bramblings under the feeders – two females together. But there was no sign of any Hawfinches.

P1020945Brambling – two females were round the feeders first thing this morning

Then we heard some quiet ticking from the back of the trees and saw a Hawfinch fly off towards the Arboretum. We set off after it and could hear two birds calling from the tops, but they were impossible to see. We chased round after the calls for a few minutes and eventually saw one fly into the top of a bare tree. This time we were able to get the scope on it, perched unobtrusively in amongst the branches. Great – another of the day’s targets achieved. It only stayed a couple of minutes and then was off again.

All the time we were looking for the Hawfinches, we could hear a Firecrest singing. With the first now seen, we set our sights on the second. It was not hard to find, but would not stay still at first. This bird has taken a liking to one of the local Goldcrests, and seems to spend most of its time chasing round after it, singing constantly. Eventually, the Firecrest stopped long enough for us to get a good look at it. We noted the well marked face pattern with black eye-stripe and white supercilium, and the bronzey neck-side patch. Then it dropped down towards us and landed in a small sapling, singing and looking down at us – such a super-smart bird!

P1020911Firecrest – singing at us for a while this morning

With such glorious weather, we wanted to move on and look for Goshawks. We walked back round via the gate and as we did so, we could hear that electric ticking again from the trees. Another Hawfinch, a female, was sitting up in full view, calling. This time it stayed a little longer and we got even better views of it.

IMG_3896Hawfinch – this female sat up in the tree tops calling

It dropped down into the trees above the alley beyond the gate, so we thought we would have a quick look to see if it was down on the ground. There was no sign of it from the gate, but looking down amongst the leaves further along, we found a smart male Hawfinch down feeding. Once again, we got it in the scope – (nut!)cracking views this time. We all admired its huge and powerful bill, much brighter chestnut brown head and contrasting grey nape.

IMG_3901Hawfinch – then we found this male down amongst the leaves

Now it really was time to tear ourselves away. Reluctantly, we headed back to the car and drove off into the heart of the Forest. We walked out into the trees along a ride and found ourselves in a clearing. We could hear Woodlarks singing, but they were a little far away and we couldn’t see them. We stood on the ride and scanned around us, and eventually we saw one on the ground in the clearing, sitting on a mound and preening. We had a good look at it in the scope.

There was blue sky above us, but despite it being sunny, there was very little raptor action at first. However, it seemed to warm up a little as we stood and waited. Then a pair of Common Buzzards started to circle up over the forest at the back of the clearing. A Sparrowhawk flew across between the banks of trees. More Common Buzzards appeared further off in the distance. Then a Goshawk appeared. It circled up but it was a long way off, in the heat haze. Still, it was nice to see one.

A pair of Woodlarks flew over and landed down in the clearing in front of us. Then a third bird flew in from the other direction. It attempted to land on a fence post but was quickly seen off by one of the pair. It dropped down on the other side of the ride and walked towards us. We got a really good look at it through the scope as it fed quietly.

Then another Goshawk appeared, circling up into the clouds, and it drifted right overhead across the clearing. We could see it was big and powerful, with very white underparts. As we were watching it, another Goshawk flew towards it from the other side and the two of them circled round not far away from each other high above us, before peeling off in opposite directions.

What a great morning! On the way back to the car we stopped to admire another pair of Woodlarks feeding along a ride. At one point, they flew up and landed on a deer fence, giving us great views.

P1020976Woodlark – put on a great show today

There were lots of butterflies on the wing as well, emerging in the lovely warm weather. During the day, we saw several Brimstones, Peacocks, a Comma and a Small Tortioseshell. It really felt like spring today.

P1020953Brimstone – lots of butterflies were on the wing today in the sunshine

With most of the main targets for the day already seen, we had a think about what to do next. After lunch, we decided to have a walk along the river at Santon Downham. It was the middle of the day, sunny and warm, but it is always a nice place to walk and there is a chance of some different birds. It used to be a very good place for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but they have become very scarce along here – possibly only one female left. And anyone who has ever looked for woodpeckers knows you have to do it early in the morning when they are drumming, so that was a no go. Or was it?

We walked along beside the railway line and cut across to the river bank. As we did so, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, which gave us some early encouragement, but the further we went, the quieter it got. We heard the odd Nuthatch, a Green Woodpecker call once and a Marsh Tit singing, but that was it. There are often Mandarins along the river, but there was not even any sign of those today – again, early is normally best. Similarly, we didn’t see a Kingfisher, not a peep. We decided to walk a little further along, in the hope we might find one along the quieter stretch of the river or possibly a Grey Wagtail.

We were about to give up and head back when we heard a shrill call – ‘kee kee kee kee’ from the other side of the river. It was instantly recognisable, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but it was somewhere deep within a dense block of Alder. There was no way we could see it. We stood on the bank for a while looking, then moved a bit further along to try a different angle. It seemed to go quiet for ages, before it finally called again. Once again we scanned the trees, but there was very little movement, and another long period of silence followed. It was a lost cause. We decided to give up – it was great to hear it, much more than we were expecting anyway at this time of day.

Just as we turned to head back, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called yet again, and this time we managed to triangulate the direction. We stopped and had another scan and this time we picked it up feeding quietly, working its way out along the branches before flying to the next tree. There was no way we could get it in the scope, but we got a good look at it through binoculars. At one point, we could see it hanging upside down on a horizontal branch! A female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, we could see the ladder-striping on the back, and the black crown. What a surprise – what a great bird to catch up with.

We didn’t get any photos, but the same bird was showing very well yesterday at the more usual time of very early in the morning – so here’s a photo and some video of it then.

IMG_3841Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – the same bird, but this photo taken yesterday

We headed back along the river bank, elated. Now all the birds seemed to come out. A Kingfisher zipped past. Another Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed in the trees next to the path. Then a pair of Mandarin swam out from the river bank and, rather than flying off as they usually do, proceeded to swim right past us. Stunning.

P1030019Mandarin – a pair swam right past us on the way back

We also stopped to admire a couple of Common Lizards basking on a fallen tree trunk. They were enjoying the sun, too.

P1020993Common Lizard – basking on a fallen tree trunk

After all that, we still had time to go looking for one more target. We drove back through the Forest and walked along another ride to another clearing. As soon as we got there, we picked up the Great Grey Shrike, sitting atop one of its favourite perches. We got the scope on it and had a good look, despite the fact that it was distant. It seemed like it might have been a good idea – as we walked round to the other side of the clearing, there was no sign of it.

We stood and scanned for a while. A Woodlark was singing and a pair of Stonechats perched up on a row of old tree stumps. Just as we were about to give up, the Great Grey Shrike appeared again. It flew back out into the clearing and perched on another row of stumps. We watched it for some time – it even flew down and caught a bumble bee, returning to its perch to devour it. At one point, it flew towards us and landed quite close. Then it flew back out towards Grime’s Graves and started to hover over the grass just like a dwarf monochrome Kestrel. What a stunning bird.

IMG_3963Great Grey Shrike – feeding around its usual clearing late this afternoon

Then it was time to call it a day. But what a fantastic day it had been, what a list of birds we had seen!

15th June 2014 – Firecrest, Hawfinch, Cranes & more

Final day of 3 day tour and down to the Brecks. A slight change to the usual programme, as none of the participants particularly wanted to look for some of the normal target birds and there was a particular request to find a Firecrest.

We started at Lynford Arboretum. There was lots of morning activity, particularly Treecreepers, tits including Marsh Tit and Goldcrests. A short way round the arboretum and a Firecrest started singing. Distant at first, we worked our way round and found the tree it was in. It was flitting around quiet high up, but hard to see amongst the dense foliage of the fir, and not everyone could get on to it. Crests will sometimes respond to a bit of ‘squeaking’, and a short burst gave an immediate response – suddenly two Firecrests appeared lower down on the front of the tree, as they came to investigate. With great views obtained all round, we left them to it, the primary target in the bag.

Further round the arboretum, and we picked up the sound of a Hawfinch calling quietly from the top of a tree. Frustratingly, we couldn’t see it, and we ended up only getting a brief glimpse as it flew away. Not to be deterred, we walked on in the direction it had flown, towards one of the Hawfinches favourite feeding areas, and quickly picked up the call again. With so many leaves on the trees at this time of year, Hawfinches can be frustratingly difficult to see but fortuitously it flew out and landed in the top of a tree a short distance away, out in the open. Great views all round again, and a real bonus!

We decided to move on and headed to Lakenheath Fen. The weather was overcast and rather windy, not the best conditions for some of the reserve’s specialities, and it was also by now the middle of the day. In particular, the Bitterns were rather subdued but fortunately we had all had such great views the day before. Still, there were plenty of other birds to watch – lots of Marsh Harriers, Cuckoos and Reed Warblers, amongst others. And a variety of insects, with several species of butterfly, dragon- and damselfly (the best of the latter being really close-up views of Red-eyed Damselflies). A Hobby was hawking over Joist Fen and a pair of Common Cranes was the highlight of the afternoon (digiscoped photo below from a couple of days ago). It was also a real pleasure to watch a couple of families of Great Crested Grebes, the stripy-headed grey juveniles demanding free rides on the backs of their parents!

We finished off back at Lynford Arboretum. It was rather quieter than it had been in the morning, but still we enjoyed great views of several new birds for the day, including a Garden Warbler gathering food and a Nuthatch preening in the afternoon sun, as well as many of the species we had seen in the morning.

All in all, a very successful three days in the field. Engaging company, lots of good birds and great views of all of the key ones we had been after.