Tag Archives: Mandarin

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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.


24th Apr 2017 – Spring in the Brecks

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

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

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

IMG_3347Stone Curlew – hiding among the spring flowers

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

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

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

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

IMG_3369Nightingale – perched out singing for us for ages

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

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

IMG_3381Garganey – a smart drake out on the Washes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A8164Mandarin Duck – a stunning drake down on the lake

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

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

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

26th Mar 2017 – Brilliant Brecks

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

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

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

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

6O0A1000Jay – enjoying the morning sunshine at Lynford

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

6O0A1003Brambling – singing in the alders down by the river

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

IMG_2769Mandarin – the drake, balanced high in a poplar tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2971Hawfinch – enjoying the late afternoon sun in the treetops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22nd Mar 2017 – More Brecks Birding

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

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

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

6O0A0558Mandarin – this pair were displaying along the river

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

6O0A0574Mandarin – the pair then started mating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A0649Siskin – came down for a drink

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

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

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

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

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

6O0A0659Goshawk – this juvenile female was displaying briefly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2417Hawfinch – perched in the top of the trees calling briefly

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

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

6O0A0687Brambling – feeding mostly in the pines today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8th Mar 2017 – Brecks Bonanza

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. It was a day to be spent looking for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker first, and then the other specialities of the region. The weather forecast had been really bad a couple of days ago, for rain all day, but it was now expected to rain overnight and dry up by early morning, which was a good deal more promising.

It was dry when we met up in the Brecks early in the morning, a good start, even though it had rained overnight. As we walked down along the river, we could hear Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker calling, as well as several Nuthatch. A Water Rail squealed from the reeds in its usual spot, but remained well hidden.

It didn’t take long to get to the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers’ favoured spot, even though the path was a bit muddy this morning. As we stood looking up into the trees, we could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming further back. We had only been there a couple of minutes when a small bird flew across and landed high up in one of the trees. Through binoculars, we could see it was one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. Great!

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew across to a dead tree and spent a couple of minutes climbing up and down the trunk and branches, picking at the bark, and even drumming once or twice. This gave us a chance to get the scope onto it. Through the scope, we could see that it was the female, with a dark cap (the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has red on the crown). We could also see the barred back and wings, lacking the bold white shoulder flash of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. And it was very small!

IMG_1414Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – the female perched for some time in the trees

After a while, the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew across and up into the higher branches of one of the taller trees. It perched there on a branch for several minutes, preening. At one point it called, a high pitched ‘ki, ki, ki’. Then it flew off further through the block of tress and we lost sight of it. We heard it call further along briefly, but by the time we had stopped to look at a Green Woodpecker in the trees, we had lost track of it.

At that point it started to rain again. Rather than stand around and wait for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker to show itself again, we had a walk further along the path. We had heard several Mandarin flying round beyond the trees while we were watching the woodpecker, so we walked further up to take a look. There they were, two pairs, perched high up in a large dead tree. It is always quite incongruous seeing ducks high in a tree, although Mandarins are tree nesters.

IMG_1444Mandarin – 3 of the 4, perched high in a tree

A little further along still, we could hear a big noisy flock of Siskin in the alders over the path. We walked very slowly up to them, until we were under the trees. There were dozens of Siskin in the branches, but looking through carefully we found two browner Lesser Redpoll in with them too, which dropped down to join the Siskin feeding on the alder cones.

It was still raining, although mercifully it wasn’t very hard. So, when we got back to where the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had been, and having had great views of one already this morning, we decided to not to hang around. A Kingfisher called, but we didn’t see it as it zoomed away along the river from behind a fallen tree. We heard Bramblings and Redwings in the trees too on the walk back to the car.

We had been hoping the more recent weather forecast would have been correct and today would have been dry all day, but given that it was still raining we decided on a change of tack. It was a bit early in the day to go looking, but we thought it might be a good opportunity to try for some gulls at Thetford while it was wet. As we drove onto the industrial estate where they have been feeding, the skies looked rather quiet. As we turned the corner and could the roof on which they have been loafing, there were just six birds there. However, even without stopping, one immediately stood out.

Big and pale, it was the juvenile Glaucous Gull which has been here on and off for several weeks now. We got out and got it in the scope, noting the pale biscuit colour overall, pale wingtips, and large, pink-based, dark-tipped bill.

IMG_1457Glaucous Gull – the juvenile still on the industrial estate in Thetford

There have sometimes been other gulls here too, and we were planning to wait to see if any others came in, but rather than stand in the rain we decided to go get a cup of tea and a bacon roll in the cafe across the road. Delicious! And we could still see the Glaucous Gull on the roof from the window of the cafe! When we came out again, there were still not many more gulls – around half a dozen Herring Gulls and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. However, it had now stopped raining, and we wanted to head off to look for Goshawks this morning, so we headed off back to the Forest. Even better, it brightened up on the way, patches of blue sky appeared and the sun came out. This wasn’t in the forecast, but it was most welcome anyway.

It was not long before we were watching our first Goshawk of the day circling up out of the Forest. It was a juvenile male, brown-toned above and orangey below as it turned in the light. It was rather distant, but it was a good start. Then another Goshawk appeared, also a juvenile. This one was a female, larger than the male. It started displaying, flying over the trees  with deep, exaggerated wingbeats.

Then another female Goshawk appeared, and it too started displaying, closer to us. It was not a juvenile, whiter below, but with quite a dark grey back, so possibly a two year-old (or 3rd calendar year) female. At one point it was pursued by a juvenile male, presumably the same one we had seen earlier. Finally an adult appeared too. It circled up out of the trees closer still to us, and began to display as it flew off over the Forest away from us.

6O0A9217Common Buzzard – there were lots of these up too today, in the sunshine

There were other birds here too. Several Common Buzzards of various degrees of paleness circled up on the warming air, calling. A Sparrowhawk flew out of the wood too and disappeared high into the sky. A Woodlark was singing nearby and a flock of Fieldfares was calling noisily from the trees behind us.

Having already enjoyed good view of the Goshawks, we were just thinking about leaving when all the pigeons scattered from the trees in front. A few seconds later, a juvenile Goshawk circled out and drifted towards us. Great stuff! It had been all action here for about an hour, but we had lots of other things we wanted to do today, so at that point we did decide to move on.

6O0A9282Goshawk – a juvenile, which circled out towards us

The Great Grey Shrike has been erratic at Cockley Cley in the last few weeks, roaming over a large area, but having been reported there for the last two days we decided to give it a go. As we drove up, we flushed a couple of Bullfinch from a puddle on the edge of the road. The clearing where the Great Grey Shrike had been originally was rather quiet, despite a departing photographer telling us that it was ‘always in that one tree’ out in the middle. We carried on a bit further, in case it might be in a different tree today!

As we walked along we could hear a Woodlark calling softly ahead of us. A scan of the ground as we went along revealed nothing, but when it started singing softly, we realised we must have gone past it. Thankfully it had come out of the furrows where it must have been hiding and was now standing on top of a tussock. It walked back down again, out of view, and we made our quietly way back to the row it was on and found it feeding quietly in the grass.

IMG_1485Woodlark – feeding quietly in the grass

As we continued on along the path, a bright male Yellowhammer perched in a tree above our heads calling. The Great Grey Shrike had been reported further round yesterday, so we carried on down the next track. A Brimstone butterfly fluttered past, enjoying the warmth from the sun now. As we arrived at a small plantation, the Great Grey Shrike suddenly appeared on the top of a bush in front of us.

IMG_1534Great Grey Shrike – we had great views of it today

We walked round a little to get the sun behind us, and were soon enjoying stunning views of the Great Grey Shrike. It perched on the very top of a small tree, back on at first, then turned and gave us a look at it from the front. It was focused on the ground below, looking for food. Eventually it flew straight towards us, across the ride, and perched up in the top of a young oak tree behind. With the sun now the wrong side of us, we left it to its hunting.

As we made our way back to the car, a large, hairy Fox Moth caterpillar was making its way across the track. Back at the road, we could hear redpolls calling, and three Lesser Redpolls flew out of the birches nearby.

Our final destination for the day would be Lynford, but having had such a successful morning, we had an hour to two to spare. We drove round to Lakenheath Fen. After a quick break for lunch, we set out across the reserve. We did not have much time to spend here today, so it was a very brisk walk. A quick look at New Fen added a few species for the day – Gadwall, Common Snipe, Teal and Coot. The pools by the path had a couple of Great Crested Grebe and a few Tufted Ducks.

From the Joist Fen viewpoint, we could see a few Marsh Harriers up, but there was nothing in the paddocks today. There was more activity up on the river bank. There were lots of geese down by the river, mostly Greylags and Canada Geese, but five White-fronted Geese were hiding in with them. Further along, there were lots of Wigeon on the water.

6O0A9327Great White Egret – flew past along the river

While we were watching the geese, a Great White Egret flew lazily past along the river. The Little Egret which flew up from down by the water further on was much smaller by comparison. We had hoped to see the Cranes here today. We only really had enough time to look for one of the pairs but there was no sign of them in their usual haunts – they could have been in the reeds or off the reserve to the south. We had to get back if we wanted to be at Lynford in good time, so it was another brisk walk back to the visitor centre.

Round at Lynford Arboretum, we walked down the path from the car park. The feeders were empty, and it looked rather quiet under the trees, but just beyond we could hear Hawfinches calling. Walking round to the other side of the trees, we spotted a male in the tops. Getting the scope on it, it was joined by a female, and then a second male. They can be surprisingly hard to see in the trees, for such a large bird, so there were probably more in there where we couldn’t see them.

IMG_1595Hawfinch – one of the males, up in the trees

There were also lots of Bramblings around the bushes here. A Crossbill flew over calling. When the Hawfinches dropped back down into the trees out of sight, we could still hear them calling. We walked up and down past the trees a couple of times, scanning, and eventually one came out on the grass, a female. It was quickly joined by a second female, but when the male flew out, it spooked all of them and they all flew back into the trees.

IMG_1602Hawfinch – a greyer female feeding down in the grass

The clearing just beyond the trees has been recently cultivated and there were lots of birds dropping down onto the bare earth. Thrushes were well represented – several Redwings, a Song Thrush or two, and three Mistle Thrushes. A pale, silvery grey White Wagtail was feeding with three darker Pied Wagtails, a spring migrant stopping off on its way north. We could hear Woodlark calling and singing and eventually found them – one feeding on the ground was colour ringed, but the other flew up into the air overhead, singing.

Down at the bridge, there was some seed put out for the birds. The first two we saw here were a Marsh Tit and a Nuthatch, both target birds for day’s list. There were also Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits. A couple of Siskin came down to drink nearby.

6O0A9355Nuthatch – coming down to seed at the bridge

We could hear Crossbills calling close by, and we looked across and saw a smart red male Common Crossbill perched up in one of the alder trees in the paddock. We had to walk down the path a short way to get the sun behind us, but were then treated to great close up views of it.

IMG_1676Common Crossbill – the male perched up in a low tree, preening & calling

There was actually a pair of Crossbills in the trees here. The male perched out in the top of one of the trees in the open, enjoying the afternoon sunshine. We watched it preening, and could hear it calling. Great views. The duller, grey-green female was lurking deeper in one of the thicker alder trees a little further back.

The list for the day was still missing a few more obvious birds which we should have seen, so we had a quick walk round the lake. Two Treecreepers flew ahead of us between the trees along the edge of the water. We heard a Little Grebe calling and following the ripples we found it lurking under the overhanging trees at far end. A Grey Wagtail flew off calling, towards Lynford Hall. A pair of Mandarin were sleeping on the grass beyond the lake, among the molehills.

6O0A9405Mandarin – a pair, down by the lake in front of Lynford Hall

Then it was time to make our way back to the car. What a day it had been! A real bonanza of birds in the Brecks.

19th Feb 2017 – Late Winter Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Late Winter Birding tours today, our last day and we made our way down to the Brecks. This was forecast to be the best day of the weekend, but after better than expected weather on Friday and Saturday, it remained stubbornly cloudy through the day today. Still, we made the best of it and managed to see all the specialities we were looking for. After the drive down to the Brecks, we regrouped in Swaffham (so members of the group could make a quick getaway at the end of the day) and set off to explore the forest.

Our first stop saw us at a site from which we could overlook the forest. We were just setting the scope up and the first bird we saw as we lined it up on the trees was a Goshawk. It was just a glimpse between the tops of trees. We expected it to circle up above the canopy, but it but didn’t. A few seconds later another local standing nearby asked ‘is that a Buzzard in the tree’, but as we swung the scope onto it, we could see that it was a juvenile Goshawk, perched in the top of a fir tree. It was obviously huge, very brown-toned above and spotted with pale feathers (the adults are grey above). Unfortunately it quickly dropped down again into the trees, before the whole of group could get a look at it through the scope.

Encouraged by our early Goshawk sighting, we waited for a reappearance. With the low cloud today, and cool conditions, there was less raptor activity in terms of numbers but still we saw a great variety. The Common Buzzards were coming and going all the time, though not circling up high into the sky. A rather pale bird caught the eye on a couple of occasions – Common Buzzards are very variable and there are some very white birds around. A Kestrel perched on a post. A Sparrowhawk circled up, and was pursued by a pair of Crows. Even a Peregrine put in a brief appearance, circling over behind us before disappearing behind the trees. But there was no more sign of Goshawk.

There were other things to see while we waited. A large flock of Redwings flew up and perched in the top of the trees, before flying down to the field below. Through the scope we could see their prominent pale superciliums. A large bare tree over the other side held four thrushes – two Mistle Thrushes, a Fieldfare and another Redwing. A little later, one of the Mistle Thrushes  started singing. There were several Skylarks around and they were singing despite the cool weather. A couple of Yellowhammers flew round in front of us calling. A flock of Linnets whirled over the field periodically.

6o0a7520Brown Hare – we watched a couple of pairs chasing round the fields

There was one pair of Brown Hares each side of us in the fields. They spent a lot of time just feeding, but we did watch one pair as the male chased the female in circles for a while. She didn’t turn round and ‘box’ him though, unfortunately. He seemed to lose interest fairly quickly and they resumed feeding.

Eventually we could see some brighter weather approaching from west. The sun just poked out from behind clouds, enough to light up the trees in front of us. More Common Buzzards circled up, gaining a little more height too than they had all morning. Finally the juvenile Goshawk appeared again, flying low across over the tops of the trees. As we watched it, we could see see why – an adult Goshawk was chasing it, silvery grey above and gleaming white below in the sunshine.

The two Goshawks flew across the length of the line of trees in front of us and disappeared into the wood in the corner. All the Woodpigeons scattered from the wood as they flew in. A short while later, the adult Goshawk flew back again low over the trees, across to where it had come from. Presumably it felt it had achieved its mission, chasing off the youngster.

Then the juvenile Goshawk started to drift back too. It circled up out of the trees, giving us a chance to get it in the scope and everyone managed to get a look at it. The upperparts were brown and the black-streaked apricot toned underparts caught the sun. Then it dropped down behind the trees again and we decided to move on.

Our next stop was at St Helens picnic site. As we drove in, we could see some Bramblings on the ground among the leaves. There were a lot of cars here today, so it was obviously rather disturbed and the Bramblings were very flighty. As we got out of the car, the last of them flew up into the trees, and they gradually started to fly off calling. We drove round to the other side of the car park to see if they had landed over there, but when we came back round we found a good number of them had landed again back where they had been at first.

6o0a7541Brambling – a bright male, with only limited black visible on its head

By carefully positioning the car, we had nice views of the Bramblings feeding on the beech mast. They were very hard to see among the orange leaves, but there were at least 20 of them still. The brighter males were noticeably variable, with some already getting blacker heads.

After watching the Bramblings for a while, we drove over to Santon Downham for an early lunch. A Greenfinch was singing from the birches in the car park. A Goldcrest was flitting around in a fir tree singing and we could hear a Marsh Tit singing nearby. Spring was obviously in the air! There were more Bramblings here too, dropping down out of the taller trees into the gardens.

After lunch, we drove deeper into the Forest.We parked up and walked down a ride to a large clearing. It is normally very quiet here, but just as we arrived at the clearing we met a dog walker coming the other way. We were hoping to find a Woodlark here, but with the dogs having just gone through their favoured area, we thought we might be out of luck. However, as we turned the corner two Woodlarks flew up in front of us.

img_0771Woodlark – dropped down into the top of a fir tree

The Woodlarks started singing, a much more melancholy song than a Skylark. They fluttered up, gaining height, but then flew round, song flighting over the clearing. One then dropped down and landed in the top of a fir tree out in the middle, where we could get it in the scope. We had a great view of it, the bright rusty ear coverts, the well-marked supercilia meeting on the back of the nape in a shallow ‘v’. Eventually it dropped down onto an open patch of ground, but still managed to disappear into the low vegetation.

We were just looking for the Woodlark, when we heard the faint ‘glip, glip’ call of a Common Crossbill. They are often to be heard flying over here, but when the calls were repeated they seemed to be coming from the same place. We scanned across the tops of the trees and could see a Crossbill perched up partly obscured, in the bare branches in the top of a deciduous tree. We repositioned ourselves for a clearer line of sight and got it in the scope.

img_0782Crossbill – a male perched nicely for us in the top of a tree

The Crossbill was a male – we could see its rusty orange overall colour. Through the scope, we could also see its distinctive crossed mandibles. Its throat feathers were moving and it appeared to be singing quietly, although we couldn’t hear it from where we were standing. Then it dropped back into the trees and disappeared.

Our main target for the afternoon was Hawfinch, and it was now time for us to get back to Lynford to await their arrival. As we walked down the path beside the Arboretum, we stopped by the feeders. There were lots of Bramblings in the leaves, along with several Chaffinches, but they were very hard to see. They were very well camouflaged, but they were throwing beak-fulls of leaves up in the air to look for beech mast, which rather gave their presence away. It was funny to watch too!

6o0a7583Brambling – a female in the leaves, Chaffinch in the foreground

6o0a7590Bramblings – two males in the leaves, with different degrees of black heads

Down at the bridge, there was lots of seed which had been put out. A steady stream of tits were coming down to feed, mostly Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits but also a few Great Tits and a Coal Tit. A single Marsh Tit kept darting in, grabbing some seed, and flying back in the bushes to eat it. Overhead, we could hear a cacophony of twittering from all the Siskins in the top of the trees.

6o0a7613Marsh Tit – kept darting in to grab some seed from the bridge

Then it was time to look for the Hawfinches. As we made our way along the side of the paddock, we could already see two distantly in the tree tops behind. We had a quick look through the scope, just to make sure everyone had seen them, and then walked round further for a better view. There were several Hawfinches now, singles or pairs in different trees, and they kept flying between the tops. We spent some time watching them, admiring their large powerful bills, big heads and short tails.

img_0799Hawfinch – several flew down to the trees in the paddocks

Suddenly, several Hawfinches all flew out of the trees together. A couple flew off, but most dropped down into the trees in the paddocks. Here we got much better views of them, low down and not against the brighter sky. After a short while, most of the Hawfinches seemed to make their way back up into the pines. When they all flew round again, it looked like there were around 15 Hawfinches here today. This was not quite as many as recent days, but having enjoyed very good views of them, we started to walk back, perhaps before they were all in.

As we made our way back around the paddocks, a few people were staring up into the pines on the other side. A pair of Common Crossbills were in a small tree by the side of the path. The male was harder to see in the branches at the back,  but we had a great view of the female as she tucked into a pine cone. After working her way round it for a while, pulling it open and taking out the seeds, she dropped the cone and had a quick stretch and preen. Then the pair of Crossbills both flew off over the path calling.

6o0a7715Common Crossbill – the female tucking into a pine cone

6o0a7742Common Crossbill – the female having a stretch afterwards

We continued up past the car park to the old gravel pits beyond. We had hoped to see a Goosander but we were informed when we arrived that they had just flown off, unfortunately. We did manage to find a single drake Goldeneye, a few Tufted Ducks and a couple of Great Crested Grebes. We were just about to give up, when a pair of Mandarin appeared out from behind the overhanging trees. They were followed by a pair of Mallard and the two drakes then had a brief altercation before the pair of Mandarin flew off.

img_0829Mandarin – this pair were on the gravel pits at Lynford

It was time to head back, but we still had one surprise in store. As we drove into Swaffham, we could see a flock of Starlings circling over the houses. By the time we got back to the car park, there were already several thousand overhead and more were coming in all the time from different directions. Several hundred tried to go down into a fir tree earlier than the rest, but they were clearly nervous and promptly took off again.

The Starling murmuration grew and grew, probably numbering over 20,000 birds at its peak. They all flew round overhead for about half hour, twisting and turning, quite an amazing sight. Then suddenly they started to drop down into the trees. They descended in several different places, but a large number went into a couple of holly trees nearby. It was fascinating to watch – when a group decided they were going in to roost, they dropped  out of the sky at speed and went hurtling into their chosen tree, disappearing completely from view. Hundreds and hundreds all went into a single small tree.


6o0a7765Starlings – the murmuration at the end of the day was quite a sight

Once they had decided to go to roost, within just a few minutes all the Starlings had gone. We still could hear them though, even if we couldn’t see them, their noisy chattering coming from the trees all around. It was a stunning sight, and a great way to end three exciting days of winter birding.

20th May 2016 – Warblers, Nightingales & More

Day 1 of a three day long weekend of tours today. We met in Wells and made our way east, turning off the coast road and continuing our way along a little inland.

We pulled up at the start of a quiet, overgrown country lane and got out of the car. Immediately, we could hear a great variety of bird song on all sides of us. A Song Thrush was singing from deep in the trees, and a Chaffinch from above our heads. A Chiffchaff was doing a passable rendition of its name. We could hear the lovely, fluid notes of a Blackcap too. A little further along, and we picked up the high-pitched song of a Goldcrest. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes as we passed.

A shape perched up in the dead branches of a tree beside the road was a cracking male Bullfinch, bright pinkish-red below with a smart black cap. He stayed there for several seconds while we admired him, but before the scope was on him he flew off calling, with a second Bullfinch calling nearby.

We stood for a while where the hedges are at their most overgrown. A pair of Common Whitethroats were busy flicking in and out of the bushes. More Blackcaps were singing from the trees and we could see a female, with brown cap, in one of the willows. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the poplars and a Treecreeper appeared, climbing up one of the larger tree trunks.

Our hope was to hear a Nightingale singing here. We did get one very brief phrase, but then it went quiet, before everyone could hear it. It was a bit cool first thing this morning, cloudy, with a rather blustery wind coming through the trees – not hot and sunny, like a Nightingale might prefer. We could hear a Cuckoo singing further up the road, so we decided to walk up there to look for that instead, and come back later to see if the Nightingale had woken up properly.

As we got to the gate which overlooks the meadows beyond the wood, we saw the Cuckoo fly across into the willows beyond. We just had time to get it in the scope, before it flew again and this time we could see that there were two Cuckoos, a pair. They chased each other in and out of the trees for some time, back and forth across the meadow in front of us. Occasionally perching up where we could see them. At one point, the female landed in a low tree out across the meadow right in front of us. The male Cuckoo wasn’t singing much, and the female was silent, but we were treated to great views of them.

IMG_4295Cuckoo – the female perched in a low tree in front of us

Eventually, the two Cuckoos disappeared back into the trees and we decided to make our way back. We stopped again where we had heard the Nightingale briefly earlier, but all seemed quiet. Then suddenly it started singing right behind us! It was still not in full song but gave us a couple of bursts, to let us know where it was hiding. We could hear that it was moving away along the hedge, then suddenly it flicked up out of the bushes and darted across the road, fanning its rusty orange tail and flashing it at us as it dived into the hedge the other side.

After a minute of two, the Nightingale started singing again further up. We followed the sound and stood listening to it, such a magical song, before it darted back across the road again. It worked its way back along the hedge past us, deep in cover, singing on and off as it went. Then we decided to leave it in peace.

As we walked back towards the car, we could hear a delicate tacking call, more of a tutting, ‘tsk, tsk’, coming from a hawthorn bush beside the road. It was a Lesser Whitethroat, the call notably softer than a Blackcap, but it was hiding deep on the other side of the hedge from us. We stood patiently for a minute or so and gradually it worked its way up higher, to where we could see it. Almost back to the car, and a Red Kite drifted leisurely up the valley past us.

The forecast had suggested it would brighten up quickly this morning, but that wasn’t the case and it had remained stubbornly cool and cloudy so far. We decided we would head on up to the Heath anyway. As we walked up along the path, we could hear Willow Warblers singing. A Woodlark flew overhead, looking strikingly short-tailed. As we crossed the road, a Garden Warbler was singing from deep in the trees.

We made our way down to where one of the pairs of Dartford Warblers have been. A couple of days ago they were feeding newly fledged youngsters here, so the likelihood is that they shouldn’t have gone far. But we couldn’t find them today in any of the likely spots.

There were lots of other birds to see here. A Woodlark flew across and disturbed a male Stonechat from the top of a dead tree, before dropping down into the grass. We walked over to see if we could find it again, but the vegetation was a bit tall. There was a pair of Stonechats perched on the tops of some low gorse bushes and a streaky juvenile Stonechat appeared with them. The Stonechat we had seen knocked off its perch was nearby, a second male, a paler interloper. When it flew back up to the top of the dead tree, it joined a smart male Yellowhammer up there now, with a lovely bright yellow head. Lots of Linnets were twittering from the gorse, including some increasingly bright red-breasted males.

6O0A3160Linnet – there are lots on the Heath, including several smart red males

We walked round some other likely areas, listening for the calls of the young Dartford Warblers. We couldn’t hear them anywhere, but we did hear a most unexpected sound. A Nightjar started churring, in the middle of the day! The Heath is a good place for Nightjars, but they generally don’t make a sound until dusk.

Round in a new clearing, a couple of Mistle Thrushes were feeding amongst the fallen branches and grass, before a passing walker flushed them and they flew into the top of a low pine tree. We could hear Willow Warblers all over the Heath and eventually we found one singing from the top of a birch tree. We got it in the scope, noting the long wings, pale legs and well-marked, lemon-yellow washed supercilium, all good features to help distinguish Willow Warbler from the very similar Chiffchaff.

IMG_4326Willow Warbler – singing from the top of a birch tree

The family of Dartford Warblers were nowhere to be found, so we decided to move on and try to find another pair. The next ones we tried have been much harder to see in recent days but as we stood quietly in one of their favoured areas, the male Dartford Warbler hopped up onto a low gorse bush in front of us. As we watched him flitting between the gorse and heather, the duller female appeared with him. We got them in the scope and had a great look at them.

6O0A3051Dartford Warbler – this photo of one taken previously here

After watching the Dartford Warblers for some time, enjoying some great prolonged views, we eventually tore ourselves away and headed back to the car for lunch. While we ate, a Turtle Dove flew over the car park and disappeared off towards the trees. A Sparrowhawk circled up above us, gaining height before flying off over the ridge, bursts of rapid flapping interspersed with glides in typical Sparrowhawk fashion.

Our next stop was at Felbrigg Park, where we walked down through the trees towards the lake. We stopped to scan the flooded grazing meadow on the way. A couple of Egyptian Geese were asleep in the grass, with a pair of Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese nearby too. A Lapwing was feeding on the edge of the shallow water. There was no sign of the Garganey here at this point, but it has been on the lake more often recently so we figured it must be there.

More excitement here was provided by a battle between a male Pheasant and a pair of Moorhens. The Pheasant was clearly feeling confident, having just seen off a rival, when the Moorhens attacked, presumably having a nest nearby, raising their winds to make themselves look as big as possible. One of the Moorhens lunged repeatedly at it, flapping its wings and striking it with its feet. Eventually the Pheasant saw sense and retreated.

6O0A3168Pheasant vs Moorhens – the Moorhens won!

As we continued along the path a small bird flew out of a hawthorn bush in front of us and across the path. As it flew in front of us, we could see a bright orange tail – it was a stunning male Redstart! It darted into a clump of gorse the other side and we could just see it perched for a couple of seconds – white forehead, black face and bright orange underneath – before it dropped down out of view. Redstarts used to breed at Felbrigg but have not done so for several years and these days they are just very occasional visitors, so this was a particularly nice surprise.

We made our way down to the lake and the first thing we noticed was a drake Mandarin. Rather than being out on the water it had chosen a particularly odd place to go to sleep, on a rather thin bare branch hanging out across the water. There were a few other ducks here too – a pair each of Tufted Ducks and Gadwall, and several Mallard and their domesticated cousins. But there was no sign of the Garganey on here either.

IMG_4336Mandarin Duck – sleeping on a rather narrow branch out over the water

A couple of Reed Warblers were singing from the reeds and a male Reed Bunting perched up on the top of a bulrush. Along the edge of the reeds, we could see a Sedge Warbler clambering around just above the water’s surface.

As we walked across the grass beside the lake, a Mistle Thrush dropped down in front of us, where a recently fledged juvenile Mistle Thrush was waiting for it. The youngster was presented with a rather large worm, which it didn’t seem interested in. The trees round the other side were rather quiet, apart from a Nuthatch piping away from deep in the wood, so we walked back round towards the water meadow.

IMG_4340Mistle Thrush – a pair were feeding a recently fledged juvenile in the grass

Back there, we bumped into a local birder who told us that he had just seen the Garganey. After some careful searching, and with his help, we finally located it hiding in the vegetation. It was feeding, pulling at the plants in the water, but all we could see at first was its head appearing occasionally out of the greenery, a lovely rich reddish brown with a striking white stripe across it, a cracking drake.

Then the Garganey did the decent thing and swam out into full view. They are stunning little ducks, beautifully patterned. It started calling, a funny croaking rattle, and bobbing its head up and down. When it swam over to the other side, one of the local Coots started chasing it. Initially it climbed out onto the bank and sat down for a few seconds. When it tried to go back into the water the Coot was after it again and eventually it decided it had had enough and flew off towards the lake.

IMG_4360Garganey – the stunning drake at Felbrigg still

We made our way back to the car and headed back down towards the coast. We didn’t have much time left, but had a look at a few spots along the way. A Hobby powered out of some trees and circled up beside the road. We managed to follow it, slowly in the car, and suddenly it started twisting and turning. When we pulled up we could see it was chasing a Swift. A second Hobby appeared with it and the two of them chased the Swift away and out of view.

As we passed the duck pond at Salthouse, we could see a few Tufted Ducks but one of them was noticeably duller, with grey-brown stained flanks rather than the pure white of a normal male. On closer inspection, it had a chestnut tone to its dark breast and a dark chestnut face and crown contrasting with a green-glossed back of its head. The crest was also not long enough for a Tufted Duck.

6O0A3188Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck hybrid – has been hanging around for several days

This bird has been around here for a couple of days now and appears to be a Tufted Duck x Ferruginous Duck hybrid. Who knows where it might have come from, but the 2013 storm surge here on the coast set free several captive ducks from the collection at Blakeney, so perhaps we are now seeing the results of that. There have been several odd ducks along the coast here in recent weeks.

There are always lots of people feeding the ducks at Salthouse and lots of food remains lying around on the ground at the end of the day. The local Brown Rats have obviously learnt to take advantage of the free food too!

6O0A3193Brown Rat – eating the leftover food at the duck pond

A quick scan of the Serpentine and Pope’s Marsh didn’t reveal anything of note, although a Little Grebe was on Snipe’s Marsh the other side of the road. Then unfortunately it was time for us to head back to Wells.