Tag Archives: Mandarin

21st May 2019 – Breck & Fen

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

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

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

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the trees by the parking area

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

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

Barn Owl

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

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – our second of the morning

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

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

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

Nightingale

Nightingale – singing from deep in a holly bush

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

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

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

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

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

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – in front of Mere Hide

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

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

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

Bittern 1

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

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

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

Bittern 2

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

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

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

Four-spotted Chaser

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

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

Hobby

Hobby – circled over the Washland viewpoint

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

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

Mandarin

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – feeding quietly in the short grass

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

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

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

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

Nuthatch

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

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

16th Mar 2019 – Brecks Bonanza

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

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

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – dropped down to feeding in the short grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goshawk 1

Goshawk – several birds were displaying, despite the wind

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

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

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

Goshawk 2

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

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

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

Brown Hare

Brown Hare – trying to hide behind the sheep wire!

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

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

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

Mandarin

Mandarin – there were two pairs back again today

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

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

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

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

Brambling

Brambling – we counted at least 8 here still

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

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

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

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

Common Crossbill

Common Crossbill – waiting to come down to drink

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Grey Shrike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brambling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers – the male below and female above

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

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

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

Great Spotted Woodpecker

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

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

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 2

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

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

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

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

Woodlark 1

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

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

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – the pair walked off into the longer grass

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

Goshawks

Goshawk – chased off by a Carrion Crow

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

Redwing

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

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

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

Mandarin

Mandarin – a stunning drake showing off

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

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

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

Yellowhammer

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

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

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

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

Great Grey Shrike

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

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

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

1st April 2018 – Easter Birding, Day 2

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

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

Brambling

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

 

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

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

Mandarin

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

 

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

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

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

Grey Wagtail

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goshawk

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firecrest

Firecrest – singing down by the bridge

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

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

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male in the trees in the paddocks

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

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

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

Marsh Tit

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

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

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – close views down at the bridge again

 

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – almost impossible to see in the stubble

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

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

27th March 2018 – Brecks Birding Again

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

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

Brambling

Brambling – several were singing down by the bridge

 

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

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

Chiffchaff

Chifchaff – feeding feverishly along the river bank

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

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

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – one of the two which flew past us simultaneously

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

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

Mandarin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – the female turned out to be colour-ringed

 

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

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

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

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow – hiding in the hedge

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Barn Owl

Barn Owl – out hunting in the early afternoon

 

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

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

 

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

Firecrest

Firecrest – flitting around in the trees by the car park

 

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

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

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

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – a bright male up in one of the hornbeams

 

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

Hawfinch 2

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

 

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

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in for sunflower seeds down at the bridge

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

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

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – great views feeding by the path beside the lake

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

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

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

25th Mar 2018 – Coast & Brecks Weekend #2

Day 2 of a two day weekend of Bird Tours, and we were heading down to the Brecks today. The clocks went forward last night, so we had lost an hour of sleep but gained an hour relative to the birds clocks which we could use to our favour! It was forecast to be cloudy in the morning and brighten up in the afternoon.

With the chance in the clocks, we figured we could afford to be ‘later’ looking for Goshawks today, so we started off heading out to look for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers first. When we arrived at Santon Downham, there seemed to be lots of people standing around looking for Parrot Crossbills, but our priority was the woodpeckers so we headed straight down to the river. A Kingfisher was in the bushes by the bridge, but flew off upstream as a large group of people arrived.

As we walked down along the new path beside the river, we could hear Bramblings wheezing in the trees and looked up to see one perched high in a poplar. Another Kingfisher was perched in one of the branches of a tree which had fallen into the river, but flew off when it saw us approaching. A pair of Mandarins flew past us along the river, before circling round and coming back through the trees where they landed high in one of the poplars. They are tree-nesting ducks and were probably looking for a suitable nest hole.

Mandarin

Mandarin – one of a pair which perched high in the poplars

 

We had been told that the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers had been around earlier this morning, but they had not been seen for around half an hour when we arrived. We stood and listened to see if we could hear them, and were rewarded with the wrong woodpeckers.

First, we could hear a Green Woodpecker laughing at us from the trees on the other side of the river. It gradually worked its way towards us and finally appeared on the dead trunk of a tree. Then we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming and shortly after another calling across the river. One eventually appeared in the top of one of the alder trees where we could get it in the scope.

That was a nice start, but not the one we were looking for. There were some other birds around – a Nuthatch appeared in the trees too, there were plenty of tits including Marsh Tit singing, Siskins zipped back and forth overhead and a big flock of Redwings flew up into the tops of the trees before heading off over our heads and across the river.

When we noticed a couple of people look up at a small bird heading towards us from the Suffolk side of the river, we looked up too to see a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker coming out way. It flew in over our heads and we thought it would land in the poplars in front of us, but instead it carried on over the trees and dropped down somewhere over the back, way off in the distance. At least we had seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but it was not the views we were hoping for this morning.

Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long. After about ten minutes, we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call and one of the group spotted it right in the top of one of the poplars. We got the scope on it and everyone had a good look, before it flew towards us and landed in another tree a little closer. It perched there for a couple of minutes, in full view, before flying again and this time heading back over the river and away, off in the direction from where it had flown in earlier.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – perched in the top of the poplars

 

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are declining rapidly in the UK and we still don’t know why. So it was great to see one and to enjoy such good views of it. Even better, we got the full set of woodpeckers for the morning! With our main target achieved, we headed back along the path.

There were some Siskins in the alders on the other side of the river and when we stopped to look at them, one of the group asked whether we might see any redpolls too. Right on cue, we heard a redpoll calling and looked up to see one fly across and land in the top of one of the poplars by the path. Through the scope we could confirm that it was a Lesser Redpoll and a second bird, a smart red-breasted male, flew in to join it.

We had heard a Grey Wagtail calling back at the bridge earlier, while we had been distracted by the Kingfisher, but we hadn’t seen it. A quick scan from the bridge again when we got back and we spotted it picking around the base of one of the tangles of branches down along the bank just upstream. We walked up along the path beside the river and got it in the scope, a smart male Grey Wagtail with black throat.

There was still no news on the Parrot Crossbills, which had been coming in to drink in one of the ditches close by on the previous two days. It seemed like they must have decided to drink elsewhere again today. We had a quick look back at the area where they had been seen, which produced nice views of a singing Marsh Tit  and a Common Buzzard which circled low overhead.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circled low overhead

 

The churchyard at Santon Downham can be a good place to see Firecrest, so we had a wander up to look there. We heard several Goldcrests singing but not their scarcer cousin. It feels like the Firecrests have been slightly slow to get going this year, possibly in response to the colder weather in recent weeks. A Treecreeper appeared in the trees by the road too.

As forecast, the cloud was now starting to break and patches of blue sky were appearing. It felt quite a bit warmer too. A Sparrowhawk circled up over the village, flapping vigorously between glides, reminding us that it was getting to raptor o’clock and we should be heading off to look for one of our other targets soon.

We walked back down towards the car, stopping to look at the feeders by the bridge where a smart male Siskin was singing above our heads. The Kingfisher was showing well again, perched in the trees just by the bridge.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – showing well by the bridge today

As we made our way over to look for Goshawks, the sun was out and the air was warming up nicely. Even though it was already after midday, to the Goshawks it was still late morning – perfect timing! When we arrived, there were already several Common Buzzards circling up above the trees. We hadn’t even had time to get the sandwiches out before we picked up our first Goshawks.

The initial ones we saw were rather distant. An adult male Goshawk was soaring high in the sky away to our right. Then a young male circled up above the trees too and started to display, flying across with slow, deep, deliberate wingbeats first before launching into a series of rollercoaster swoops, diving down, then turning sharply up, climbing vertically before stalling at the top and repeating over again. It gradually lost height, dropping down behind the trees.

Then another adult Goshawk appeared, a little bit closer. As it circled up it attracted the attention of one of the local Carrion Crows which decided to chase after it. The Crow mobbed it for several minutes, the Goshawk just jinking out of the way occasionally. After gaining height, it drifted off over the road and away to the west, until we lost sight of it, with the Crow still pursuing it.

We were busy watching the original young male Goshawk, which had come up again, when one of the group noticed yet another Goshawk circling up in front of us. This one, a different adult, was much closer, and we had a great view of it as it circled up, pale grey above and almost white below. It gained height very quickly, before drifting off north.

Goshawk

Goshawk – one of at least four on view over lunch

After that one disappeared, we turned our attention back to the young male Goshawk which was still displaying away to our right. The adult male was up again too now, and had clearly decided to chase off the interloper. It started to display, slow flapping, and headed straight towards the youngster, which decided to head off, and we lost it behind the trees.

In between all the Goshawk action, we had even found time to eat our lunch! There were other raptors up too – in addition to all the Common Buzzards, a Red Kite circled up and two Kestrels hovered over the field behind us. We had been really spoilt with raptors now, so we decided to head off and try something else.

We made our way round to a clearing to look for Woodlarks next. We thought they might be singing now, with the sun having come out, despite it being the middle of the day, but it was surprisingly quiet. We had a quick walk round, but it was rather disappointing – the only birds of note we saw were a Linnet singing in the tops of the trees close to where we parked and a smart male Yellowhammer perched in a low bush calling. A couple of Common Buzzards circled over, including a very pale bird, almost pure white below.

We decided to try something else and made our way over to Lynford Arboretum. As we walked in along the path, we had a great view of a couple of Goldcrests busy feeding low down in the larches. There was very little food left in the feeders from the gate and almost no birds down in the leaf litter, so we headed straight down towards the paddocks.

There were lots of birds coming down to the food put out on the pillars of the bridge. We stopped just long enough to admire a variety of tits, including several Marsh Tits which were coming in and out repeatedly, giving great close views.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – great views coming in to the food put out at the bridge

Hawfinch was our main target here, so we didn’t wait too long before continuing on down to the paddocks. We were quickly rewarded, as almost instantly something spooked all the finches and Redwings feeding under the trees out in the middle and we saw two larger birds with obviously white-tipped tails fly up. They were a pair Hawfinches and we got them in the scope as they dropped down to the ground again.

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – this duller grey-brown female showed very well

 

Over the next few minutes, the Hawfinches were continually dropping down to the ground and flying back up into the trees above, generally spooked by a cock Pheasant which insisted on calling loudly from time to time and shaking its wings, upsetting all the other birds. We had particularly good views of a female Hawfinch, which perched on a dead branch lying on the ground for a minute or so at one point, and then showed very well in a low hawthorn, climbing about in the branches and feeding on the leaf buds.

When two Hawfinches flew up from the trees and off towards the Arboretum, we though at first that was the pair we had been watching, but looking back at the hawthorn the female was still there in the branches. Then we noticed a male Hawfinch had appeared and was perched slightly higher up. Through the scope, we could see his much richer chestnut colouration, really striking in the afternoon sun.

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – the more richly-coloured male perched up too

 

 

When the Hawfinches finally disappeared back into the trees, we decided to walk back to the bridge. We topped up the seed mix on the pillars with a generous handful of sunflower seeds, and the Nuthatches appeared to appreciate it, coming in and out regularly to grab a beakful.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in to grab some sunflower seeds

As well as all the tits coming and going, there were Chaffinches and Dunnocks too. The Siskins were not here for the seeds, but were feeding in the alders nearby and we had great views of a bright male just above our heads.

 

Siskin 2

Siskin – this smart male was singing above our heads

It was time to start making our way back, so we walked up to the car park. We stopped for a minute and listened, but there was no sign of any Firecrests singing here either today, although it was hard to hear anything at times with all the cars and people coming and going. Then we noticed some movement high in one of the fir trees and as we looked up with binoculars, a Firecrest flitted out and landed on a branch.

Unfortunately, by the time the rest if the group had made it over, the Firecrest had disappeared and been replaced by a Goldcrest instead. It was a frustrating few minutes before the Firecrest finally appeared on the edge of the next fir tree along and we all had a good view of it flitting in and out of the branches high above our heads.

We still had time for one last stop on our way back. The first Stone Curlews which had returned a week or so back had become rather elusive since the snow, so we weren’t sure we would be able to find them today. We stopped to scan the field where they often like to roost during the day, but there was no sign of them. A Tree Sparrow in the hedge nearby was some compensation.

Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow – appeared in the hedge while looking for Stone Curlews

 

The Stone Curlews are not in the pig fields so often at this time of year, but we decided to have a look anyway just in case and there they were, three Stone Curlews. We got them in the scope and had a good look at them, noting their staring yellow eyes and short yellow and black bills. They didn’t appear at all concerned by the pigs walking either side of them!

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlews – unconcerned by the pigs walking past!

That was a great way to end the tour, watching the Stone Curlews out in the field. It had been a really enjoyable couple of days with some good birds and excellent company. Time to head for home!

10th March 2018 – Back to the Brecks

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

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

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

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

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

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of several song-flighting this morning

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

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

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

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

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

Yellowhammer

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

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

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

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

Goshawk

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

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

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

Brambling

Brambling – showed well in the tree by the feeders

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

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

Grey Wagtail

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

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

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

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

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – on the river at Santon Downham

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

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

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

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tits – great close views at the bridge again today

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

Siskin

Siskin – lots were feeding in the alders here

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

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

Hawfinch

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

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

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

Great Spotted Woodpecker

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

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

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

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – very smart now in breeding plumage

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