Tag Archives: WIllow Tit

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!

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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.

19th March 2018 – Brecks & Fens

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks, but with a difference. We had a specific list of target species, which meant we would aim to spend the morning in the Brecks themselves and the afternoon at Lakenheath Fen and the surrounding area. After a frosty night, it was a lovely bright, clear, sunny day, but cold in the still blustery NE wind.

After an earlier than normal start, we headed out to look for Stone Curlews first. A few early birds have already arrived back and presumably must be regretting it! It had snowed a little yesterday and the fields were covered in a light dusting of snow this morning.

The first field we checked, where we had seen them a couple of days ago, was empty today, apart from a couple of Red-legged Partridges. We checked out the other field they favour and at first it appeared devoid of life too until somebody noticed two shapes huddled up tight against the hedge – the Stone Curlews. They were clearly trying to get out of the cold wind, despite the fact they were up to their knees in snow!

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of two sheltering from the wind in the snow this morning

The Stone Curlews walked out a short distance into the field, where we had a very good look at them through the scope, before they headed back in to the shelter of the hedge once more. Further over, out in the middle of the field, a pair of Grey Partridge were trying to hide in one of the wheel ruts.

Goshawk was another target for the day, but it was still a bit cold for them to be up. We drove round via a good site for them but a quick scan from the warmth of the car revealed very little aerial activity. There were several Fieldfares feeding on the ground out in the field nearby, along with a couple of Mistle Thrush and a few Chaffinches. We would come back later, when it had warmed up a little (relatively speaking!). In the meantime, we headed off to look for Woodlarks.

As we walked along the ride past the first clearing, there was quite a bit of snow covering the ground. It didn’t look especially promising. The second clearing we looked in was even worse. There is some farmland just beyond the forest here, and we figured they might have moved out to the fields to look for food, so we headed over that way.

As we walked past the third clearing towards the fields, we heard a Woodlark call and looked across to see two come up off the bare ground beyond. They flew over towards us and did a circuit of the clearing, calling to each other. The male twittered, but never really broke into full song. While one of them flew quickly back to the fields, the male Woodlark landed in the top of a small oak tree on the edge of the clearing, where he did start to sing rather half-heartedly.

 

We walked round to the oak tree for a closer look and got the Woodlark in the scope, getting a good look at it before he took off and flew away over the clearing and dropped down again onto the field beyond. Satisfied with what we had seen, we turned to go but we hadn’t got very far before a pair of Woodlarks flew in calling again. They circled round and landed only a short distance away from us, in a small patch in the clearing which was relatively free of lying snow.

Woodlark

Woodlark – a pair flew in and landed in a snow-free patch in the clearing

 

As we walked back to the car, it was still very cold in the wind but it felt like the sun was starting to get a bit more warmth to it, so we headed off to look for Goshawks. We hadn’t been there long before the first Common Buzzards started to appear, first one or two, then a group of three circled up behind.

Not too long afterwards, a Goshawk circled up too. It was rather distant, but through the scope we could see it was an adult, pale grey above and bright whitish below, a male by the looks of things. It didn’t gain much height as it circled, drifting slowly across and eventually dropping back down behind the trees. It wasn’t the best view, but at least we had seen a Goshawk. It was rather cold here standing out in the open, so we decided to head off and look for something else.

Willow Tit was the next species on the list. We drove round to a spot where some feeding tables have been set up in the hope of tempting them in. As we walked up the ride, a Redwing appeared in the trees by the path.

The feeding tables were well stocked with sunflower seeds and a steady stream of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits were coming in to take advantage, or flitting around in the pines nearby. A Marsh Tit appeared in the trees by the path – a bit too plain and grey compared to the one we were hoping for. We had nice views of a Nuthatch climbing down a tree trunk here too.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – there were lots around the feeders today

 

We didn’t have to wait long before we heard a Willow Tit, a male singing deep in the plantation behind one the feeders. For a minute or so, it sang repeatedly, a series of loud, ringing ‘tseeooo’ notes, and it seemed like it might be working its way towards us. Then it went quiet. We scanned the edge of the trees in case it came out but about ten minutes later, we got two more ‘tseeooo’s from about the same place, and that was it.

It gradually became clear that was all we were going to get for a while. We were about to leave when we looked up and saw a raptor circling low over the trees – a Goshawk. It disappeared back over the trees but a couple of minutes later, we saw it fly across the ride further up, closely followed be a second Goshawk. We thought there was a good chance they might start to display, so we walked up to a spot where there was an opening in the trees.

When we got there, we could see one of the two Goshawks still up above the pines. It was hanging in the wind, not really displaying, but with its white undertail coverts puffed out. It was a much better view than the distant one we had seen earlier. It gradually drifted away and dropped down behind the trees again.

Goshawk

Goshawk – hanging in the wind, with its undertail coverts fluffed out

As we walked back, the two Goshawks appeared again, high over the ride. The male was displaying now, way up in the sky, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, while the larger female circled below.

Apart from actually seeing a Willow Tit, we had found all our Brecks targets already, and had very good views of all the rest of them. We decided to head off and try something different – we could always swing back round here on our way back later.

Common Crane was next on the list, which meant a drive over into the edge of the Fens. We had a look round several of the places they like to feed and, after stopping to check through various Greylag and Canada Geese off in the distance, we spotted a lone Common Crane flying over the meadows. It dropped down behind an area of thick rushes, where it started to feed.

Common Crane

Common Crane – on its own today

There is usually a pair of Common Cranes here and they are rarely seen apart, so hopefully the fact that it was on its own may suggest that this pair are getting down to breeding already.

It was getting on to lunchtime now, so we made our way round to Lakenheath Fen next, where we stopped for a bite to eat. After lunch, we headed out towards the Washland viewpoint. There were lots of Reed Buntings around the feeders outside the visitor centre.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – along the river from the Washland viewpoint

 

As we walked up onto the river bank at the Washland, the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret, a short distance away to the east along the river. Just behind it, a swan on the edge of the reeds turned out to be a lone Whooper Swan. They are not often on their own here and this one didn’t look entirely well, so perhaps it had been unable to follow the rest of the Whooper Swans back towards Iceland.

There were lots of ducks out on the Washland too, mainly Shoveler, Wigeon and Shelduck. A couple of small parties of Tufted Duck were down on the river, along with a few Teal.

The bird we had really hoped to see here was Water Pipit. There are usually quite a few along the river here, but they can be horribly elusive. Today, however, our luck was in as we quickly spotted one picking around one of the islands of rushes just below the viewpoint. It appeared to be in moult, gradually losing its streaked underparts before gaining the brighter pink breast of summer plumage.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – in the middle of moulting to summer plumage

Spoonbill is an unusual bird down here – much commoner up on the coast – so it was not one we had predicted as a possible today. However, following news that one was here yesterday, we had learnt at the visitor centre that it was still present today, along the river. We hadn’t ventured far from the Washland viewpoint, when we spotted a large white shape further downstream, feeding along the far bank. Through the scope, we could confirm it was the Spoonbill.

We walked up the bank until we were roughly opposite the Spoonbill and had a good look at it. We could see the yellow tip to its spoon-shaped bill, the mustard wash across its breast and a flowing crest blowing around in the wind, suggesting it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – on the river bank opposite New Fen

 

We were now opposite New Fen, so we cut back in onto the reserve. A pair of Gadwall and a couple of Little Grebe were the only new birds here. With out targets achieved so quickly, we decided not to walk out around the rest of the reserve and made our way back to the visitor centre.

Willow Tit was the only one of the species we had set out to see today which still eluded us, so we decided to head back over for one more go, on our way back to where we had started the day. When we arrived, we met a couple of people leaving who told us that it had just been singing and calling pretty constantly, but remained rather elusive.

Siskin

Siskin – had now joined the tits on the feeding table

 

We walked back up to the feeding stations, where a smart male Siskin had joined the tits down on the sunflower seeds. We stood and watched the comings and goings for a while, but it started to seem like we might be out of luck. Then we heard a Willow Tit calling in the plantation on the other side of the ride, a deep, nasal scolding. Once again, it sounded like it might be heading our way, so we stood and scanned the edge of the trees.

This time the Willow Tit did come out, but it flew from the tops of the pines of one side of the ride, right over our heads. It appeared to be dropping down towards one of the feeding tables, but then seemed to go down into the bushes beyond. We focused on the feeding table, expecting it to make a visit there, but we didn’t see it. The next thing we knew, it started singing from the pines behind.

The Willow Tit was not far into the plantation this time, so we followed the song and found ourselves standing below the tree where it was. It sang and sang for about 10 minutes, but even though we knew exactly which tree it was in, it was almost impossible to see. It was high in the top and not moving. Eventually, it started to move and we get a quick look at it when it came to the outer branches of the tree, before moving off and going quiet.

Perhaps not the best view ever of a Willow Tit, but at least we had seen it now. It meant we had completed the set, all the target species we had set out to find today. With long journeys back and after our early start, we decided to call it a day and head for home.

5th March 2018 – Thaw in the Brecks

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. After the snow and cold weather over the last week, warmer temperatures and rain overnight brought a very welcome rapid thaw. It was then a lovely day today – partly cloudy with some nice sunny intervals and the temperature up to 9-10C!

Our main target for the morning was Goshawk. We headed over via a favoured spot first thing, but it was still rather cool and cloudy. A quick stop and scan revealed a Sparrowhawk flying past over the trees, but otherwise there was very little raptor activity yet. So we decided to head off and look for Woodlarks instead first.

By the time we got there, the sun was already starting to break through the clouds. We parked again at the head of a ride and walked into the start of the forest. At the first clearing, we could hear a Woodlark calling. We looked across into the top of one of the tall trees which had been left out in the middle and there were two Woodlarks and a Yellowhammer. We had a quick look in the scope – a good start, but they were a little distant and we were looking into the light.

Another Woodlark was singing further along the ride, so we walked on to the next clearing. A couple more Yellowhammers landed high in a tree by the path as we made our way over there. Here we found the Woodlark in full song flight, fluttering high over our heads, flying round over its territory. It is a wonderful sound, despite the song having a somewhat mournful quality to it, a Woodlark singing over a forest clearing, a real sign of early spring.

As we walked round the edge of the clearing, another Woodlark flew up from the grass out in the middle and landed in a small oak tree by the path, calling. We had a good look at it, but as we tried to get round onto the other side where the light was better, it flew across and landed down in the grass a short distance away.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – flew up and landed in a small oak tree

It was non-stop Woodlark action now. With some warmth in the air, they were making up for lost time, back in full spring-mode after the cold spell over the last few days. We decided to walk along and try to see the one which had just landed in the grass, but on our way we were distracted by the songflighting Woodlark doing another circuit above us.

The other Woodlark then flew up from the ground ahead of us, followed closely by a second bird. We watched as they flew across and landed on the edge of the clearing. By moving slowly and quietly, we were able to follow them and had fantastic views of them on the ground.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – we had great views of one pair on the ground

The Woodlarks were feeding quietly, in and out of the replanted furrows. The female was busy feeding while the male would periodically stop to sing quietly.

Woodlark 3

Woodlark – the female was busy feeding around the furrows

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away and left the Woodlarks feeding in peace. The sun was out now and we had a date with Goshawks!

Back where we had looked earlier, it was immediately apparent that raptor activity had increased significantly. There were already several Common Buzzards up in the sky now. Scanning carefully, we picked up our first Goshawk of the day, an adult, grey above and white below. It was rather distant and simply circled up, gradually gaining height into the patches of cloud before drifting off.

When the Goshawk disappeared, we had a bit of wait before we saw what was possibly the same bird circling again. Possibly they were waiting for enough thermal activity in the air because there was then a flurry of action. A young male appeared, catching orange below as it turned, and it started displaying, flying over the trees with deep and slow wingbeats. That prompted one of the adults to respond, and we even had a burst of roller-coaster display, swooping down before turning sharply back up again.

While we were back watching the juvenile Goshawk again, the next thing we knew two adults appeared together. They were both displaying and at one point seemed to have a coming together, grappling talons, chasing each other down into the trees. A fourth Goshawk, another adult, then circled up away to our right, much closer this time, giving us a great view of it through the scope.

As well as the Goshawks, there were lots of Common Buzzards up now. A Red Kite drifted across over the trees and a Kestrel circled up too. We could hear another Woodlark singing here, off in the distance.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – there was lots of raptor activity once the air warmed up

Eventually, we decided to move on. There are small numbers of Willow Tits still clinging on in the forest around here and some feeding stations have been set up for them. We headed over to one site to see if we could find them. As we walked up the ride, there were lots of tits in the trees, Blue, Great and Marsh Tits, but not the one we had come to see.

There were a few people gathered staring at a bird table in the edge of the trees. A steady stream of tits, mainly Coal Tits, were flying in and grabbing a sunflower seed before taking it back into the trees to eat. A Marsh Tit did the same, as did a Nuthatch. It appeared there had been no sign of the Willow Tits.

We hadn’t been standing there very long before we heard a distinctive song coming from deep in the trees. A Willow Tit! It seemed like none of the others there recognised it, so it was hard to tell if it had been singing before we arrived. We walked a little further up the ride, in the direction of the song, which seemed to be coming from behind a second bird table in amongst the pine trees. When the Willow Tit went quiet again, we stopped to see if it was coming in to feed here, but all we could see was another Nuthatch and a couple more Coal Tits.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – making regular visits to the feeding tables

When the Willow Tit started singing again a couple of minutes later, it had crossed the ride and was now in the trees behind us. It was moving very quickly through the trees, so we followed the song. It was quite high up in the dense pines and impossible to see anything beyond a shape moving when it flew, but it appeared to be working its way back towards the ride. Then it shot out, over our heads and back across the ride and disappeared into the trees again.

At least we had heard the Willow Tit singing, and had the briefest glimpse of it, before it now went quiet again. We decided to move on. On our way back to the car, a Goldcrest was singing in the trees and another Marsh Tit was much more obliging than its cousin.

The middle of the day is not the best time to look for woodpeckers, but we decided to give it a shot and have a walk along the river to see if we could find one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. After the recent cold weather, we thought they might be extra active today, but it was rather quiet on the way out. A pair of Mute Swans and a couple of Little Grebes were out on the water. We could hear a Woodlark singing in the distance, and a Reed Bunting calling in the reeds.

As we got to the poplars, a small flock of Redwing flew up from the wet ground beneath into the trees, where they perched waiting for us to move on. A Marsh Tit was singing and a Nuthatch climbed down a tree trunk.

Redwing

Redwing – feeding below the poplars along the riverbank

We had brought our lunch with us, so we sat on a couple of logs which had been cut from one of the recently fallen trees. It was a lovely place to stop and eat, listening to the sound of the water flowing past. At first, there was not much else to hear but all of a sudden there was a burst of activity. The number of tits singing seemed to increase and then a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called. It was deep in the trees on the other side of the river, but at least we now knew where it was.

We hoped that might be the start. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from somewhere downstream. We waited and then a Great Spotted Woodpecker called too, but its smaller cousin had gone quiet. After we finished our lunch, we walked a little further along the riverbank, but we didn’t hear it again, so we made our way back to the car

Lynford Arboretum was our final destination for the afternoon. As we made our way in along the path, we stopped by the gate overlooking the feeders in the trees. There were plenty of tits coming to feed on the fat balls in the big cage feeder. Lots of Chaffinches were down in the leaf litter when we arrived, but they were very nervous and kept getting spooked – by a Woodpigeon flying over or two Rabbits chasing each other through the trees.

Tits

Tits – coming to feed on the fatballs

Continuing on down to the bridge, there was lots of seed mix spread out on the pillars today, but no sunflower seeds. The Marsh Tits and Nuthatches which are usually here were conspicuous by their absence today, possibly not appreciating the food on offer. The other tits were more interested in the feeders – a steady stream of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Long-tailed Tits. Several Reed Buntings did seem to be enjoying the selection though.

Great Tit

Great Tit – coming down to the food at the bridge

As we turned onto the path which runs alongside the lake, several birds flew up from the wet meadow beyond the fence. In amongst the Redwings, three slightly smaller birds flashed white in the wing and a white tip to the tail as they took off – Hawfinches! They landed again just before the next fence over and started to feed down in the wet grass. We got a smart male Hawfinch in the scope and had a great look at it.

Unfortunately, just at that moment, a particularly loud group of people walked past along the other side of the paddocks and scared all the Redwings again. There was a large flock of them still here today, at least 60 birds. The Hawfinches flew up with them and disappeared into the hornbeams out in the middle.

We continued on a little further along the path and could see one of the Hawfinches feeding now, down on the ground under the trees. There were lots of other finches feeding there too – several Bramblings in with the Chaffinches and Greenfinches. However, the Hawfinches were very flighty and the next time we saw them they disappeared down below one of the other trees, further back in the paddocks, where we couldn’t see them.

Turning our attention to the lake instead, a large flock of Siskins was feeding in the alders, and flying round calling. The water was still mostly frozen, but a single Gadwall feeding in a patch of open water round one of the islands was an addition to the day’s list.

We decided to try our luck round on the other side of the paddocks and as we stopped to look around the first hornbeam out in the middle, we heard a Hawfinch calling from the next tree over. We hurried along to a gap in the hedge and had great views of it perched in the hornbeam calling. We could see its huge cherry stone-crushing bill and black mask and bib.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – perched up in one of the hornbeams, calling

Then the Hawfinch dropped back into the trees and disappeared. It was that time of the day, when the finches are starting to go to roost. The other birds had also disappeared from under the trees, so we decided to call it a day and head for home ourselves.

18th Mar 2017 – Day Brecks

A group day tour in the Brecks today. Earlier in the week, it had been forecast to be wet all day but the outlook was much improved and we were now not expecting any rain until late afternoon. We set out to make the most of it.

The meeting point for the day was at Lynford Arboretum car park. While we were getting everything packed up, we could hear a Firecrest singing in the fir trees nearby. We had a quick look to see if we could find it, but it was rather cool and breezy and the Firecrest was deep in the trees. Still it was a nice start, hearing it here. There were several Siskins in the trees here too.

Our first stop was at Santon Downham. To be assured of seeing the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, you need to spend several hours here, and we didn’t have that amount of time available today, with lots of other things to see. We thought it was worth chancing our luck anyway, while it remained overcast. As we walked down to the bridge, we just caught a snatch of Firecrest song from deep in the bushes, but then it went quiet. Down by the river, a Kingfisher flew off calling, circling round and disappearing into the trees the other side of the road in a flash of electric blue.

6O0A0343Mute Swan – a pair were busy nest building along the river

As we walked along the river bank, a couple of Bramblings flew into the bushes above one of the ditches where they like to drink and bathe. There were several pairs and small groups of Siskins and Lesser Redpolls buzzing around too, though they wouldn’t settle long enough for us to get the scope onto them at first. A Nuthatch was piping overhead in the poplars. A pair of Mute Swans were busy building a nest platform next to a fallen tree.

We hadn’t gone too far when we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling some way ahead of us. We hurried along to where we thought the sound had come from and found several people gathered on the river bank. They had heard it too, in fact that had heard two Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers as we were on our way out, one on either side of the river, but they hadn’t been able to see them.

Eventually, after a bit of a wait, one of the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers called again. It was on the south side of the river and a bit further back from where it had been heard previously. We walked quickly back and one or two of us just managed to get a glimpse of it deep in a tangle of branches. Unfortunately, it then disappeared again before we could get the rest of the group onto it.

While we were waiting for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker to reappear, there were several other birds to look at. There were loads of Bramblings in the alder trees and we got a couple of them in the scope for a closer look. They should be on their way back to Scandinavia soon. More Lesser Redpolls were buzzing around the trees and eventually a couple landed and stayed still long enough for us to get them in the scope. A flock of Redwings flew ‘teezing’ through the tops. A Sparrowhawk disappeared back over the trees.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called once more, but had clearly moved even further back into the trees on the other side of the river, where we stood no chance of seeing it. We waited a few more minutes to see if it would come back our way, but it had gone quiet again. It was frustrating, but we knew we had so much more to do today, so we had to head back. On our way along the river, we flushed a pair of Grey Wagtails from a tree which had fallen across the river.

Our main target for the morning was to be Goshawk. With the weather brightening up a little, we wanted to try to make the most of it, so we made our way over to a spot where we know we have a good chance of finding one at the moment. Scanning over the Forest,we could see at least eight Common Buzzards up, despite the rather cool and windy weather, which was surely a good sign.

It didn’t take too long before we were watching our first Goshawk, an adult male. It circled up out of the trees and hung in the air, then patrolled back and forth for a bit. It wasn’t displaying and its undertail coverts were not puffed out, it seemed to just be enjoying the breeze. Then it drifted off back out of view.

Shortly afterwards, another Goshawk appeared, this time a juvenile female. Through the scope, we could see its orange-tinged underparts and darker brownish upperparts. It started displaying, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. This brought an immediate reaction and the next thing we knew there were three Goshawks in the air together. Presumably the same adult male we had seen earlier then proceeded to try to chase the juvenile off.

For about half an hour there was quite a bit of Goshawk activity, although they were always rather distant. At one point, the juvenile even embarked on a bit of rollercoaster display, with a series of swoops and steep climbs. Then the cloud thickened again and it went a bit quiet. Even the Common Buzzards retreated back to the trees. We had hoped to see a Goshawk a bit closer, but it felt like we might have to settle for the views we had already had.

6O0A0358Goshawk – a juvenile displaying

Suddenly a juvenile Goshawk appeared up out of the trees in front of us. This one was much closer and we could get a much better look at it. Again, we could see its orange-toned underparts and darker upperparts than the adults. It circled round for a while and engaged in a bit of slow flapping display, then stooped back sharply down towards the trees.

That might have been it, but at the last minute the Goshawk pulled up and landed in the top of one of the fir tree. Even better, it stayed there for several minutes, so we could get it in the scope and all get a good look at it. It is very rare to see a Goshawk perched up out in the open so this was a real treat. It looked very long legged as it tried to steady itself in the swaying branches. We could even see some of the finer plumage detail – the contrasting dark barring on the tail and the paler spotting on the upperparts. Eventually, it dropped down into the trees out of view.

IMG_2239Goshawk – the juvenile landed high in a fir tree

Having enjoyed such good views of Goshawk, we decided to head off and try our luck elsewhere. The Great Grey Shrike at Cockley Cley had not been reported yesterday, but we felt confident it was still in the area, so we made our way round there next to take a look. When we got out of the car, we could hear a Woodlark singing, but we couldn’t see it at first. It was already getting on for lunchtime, so we decided to stop for a quick bite to eat while we scanned the clearing.

A Woodlark flew across and dropped down out of view while we were eating, but thankfully, just as we were finishing up, a second Woodlark flew over from the other side, singing and what was presumably the bird we had just seen flew up too. The two of them landed in a young oak tree, where we could get them in the scope. We could see the rusty ear coverts and prominent pale supercilia, meeting at the back in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the nape.

When they took off, one of the two Woodlarks flew back out into the middle of the clearing, but the other dropped down by the edge of the path. We walked over and found it singing from a mound of earth among the newly planted trees, its rather melancholy song being a real sound of the forest clearings in early spring.

IMG_2248Woodlark – singing on the edge of one of the clearings

Another group of birders returning along the path told us that they had just seen the Great Grey Shrike, so we set off to look for that. It didn’t take long to find it, perched on a dead tree stump on the edge of a large clearing. We had a look at it through the scope, though it was rather distant at first. It flew down to the ground before reappearing back up on the fence.

We watched the Great Grey Shrike for a bit and were then distracted scanning for other birds. The next thing we knew it appeared in the top of a tall bare tree right in the middle of the clearing in front of us.

IMG_2259Great Grey Shrike – hunting from the trees and fence around a large clearing

With our luck running at the moment, we headed round to another area where we have heard Willow Tit recently. As we walked up, we could hear it singing again and it sounded like it might be on the edge of the block of trees. Unfortunately, as we hurried up to where it was singing, it seemed to move back into the pines and then went quiet just as we started to home in on it. Still, it was great even to hear a Willow Tit, as they have become so rare now.

While we were looking for the Willow Tit, we heard a Common Crossbill singing nearby. We walked round and found a pair of Crossbills in the tops of some poplars. We got the rusty red male in the scope and could see the crossed tips to its bill. As we made our way back to the car, another tall dead tree in an open area held first a Brambling and then a smart male Yellowhammer.

We planned to finish the day at Lynford Arboretum. The clouds had started to darken a bit already, so we thought we should make our way round there to try to make the most of it. Even though it hadn’t been supposed to rain until 4pm, it started spitting as we drove over. Thankfully, that didn’t stop the Firecrest which was singing in the car park when we arrived. It was hiding in a holly tree at first, but flew up and out into the bare branches of a taller deciduous tree where we could see it, if only from below.

Unfortunately, the rain then started. There was quite a crowd gathered by the gate, looking at the feeders when we got there. There were several Hawfinches down on the ground, but they were right at the back and obscured by vegetation. They were not there for long either, as something spooked them and they flew up into the trees. There were several Bramblings which were easier to see here though, and a couple of Nuthatches feeding down on the ground. We could still hear Hawfinches calling in the trees so we walked a bit further up and looked back into the beeches, where we could see a couple of them perched in the branches.

IMG_2272Hawfinch – a female, perched in the trees

Five Hawfinches flew out and headed off towards the pines, so we walked a bit further along to see if we could catch up with them. We could still hear Hawfinches calling and at least three were chasing each other round in the tops of the trees just beyond the chicken pens. We had a look at those in the scope too, although they were a bit more distant.

There were more Hawfinches calling in the pines beyond the cultivated meadow, so we stopped there for a look. Several Redwings had been feeding down on the bare ground and had flown up into the trees nearby in the rain. We had a good look at those in the scope. Then a male Hawfinch appeared briefly with them. Unfortunately it flew before everyone could get a look at it, heading off back towards the feeders.

IMG_2286Redwing – several were still around the cultivated meadow

We made our way back to the feeders to see if we could get a look at a Hawfinch on the ground, and got lucky with a smart male which dropped in about half way back on the edge of the trees. It was doing its best to hide, lurking half behind one of the tree trunks at first before coming out into the open. It was also nervous and flew off into the trees, but came back down again shortly after.

This time, we all got a really good look at it, noting its huge nutcracker of a bill, black mask and bib, bright russet head and contrasting grey nape. The Hawfinch was feeding on the ground, finding seeds, probably beech mast, in the leaf litter. We could see it crunching away on whatever it was finding. Eventually it spooked again and flew up into the tops.

IMG_2288Hawfinch – a smart male feeding down on the ground

Having all enjoyed great views of Hawfinch now, we decided to walk down to the bridge. As we walked down the hill, we could hear more Hawfinches calling from the trees either side of the path and even saw one or two perched up in the tops briefly.

There was some seed out on one of the pillars of the bridge, but either the food was not deemed to be up to standard or the rain was putting the birds off, as it was rather quieter here than usual. The peanut feeder was also almost empty. There were no Crossbills coming to drink down at the paddocks either, at least at the moment we were there and it was not the weather to hang around for any length of time. We did walk round and have a look at the Long-tailed Tit nest though, which is now looking just about finished, an amazing construction of moss, lichen and cobwebs.

6O0A0401Long-tailed Tit nest – now looking just about finished

As we walked round to the lake, we could hear Mandarin calling and just managed to see two of them dropping in through the trees. They spooked as we came along the path but thankfully landed again on the grass opposite, where we could get a good look at them through the scope. The drake was looking particularly gaudy.

IMG_2326Mandarin – a pair were round the lake

The pair of Gadwall on the lake, in contrast, were nowhere near as brightly coloured. But we got them in the scope and admired the intricate plumage detail of the drake. They are the most under-rated of ducks, until you see them up close. We could hear a couple of Little Grebes laughing maniacally, and found one diving under an overhanging branch, where we could get it in the scope.

While we were walking round the lake, we could hear Crossbills calling over the corner of the Arboretum. Back at the bridge, we did manage to find a couple in the tops of the poplars briefly. Fortunately, we had enjoyed good views of Crossbill in the better weather earlier in the day, so we decided not to hang around. A Marsh Tit was feeding in the brash under the trees beyond the bridge and a Reed Bunting was just about the only bird coming in to the seed today.

6O0A0412Reed Bunting – just about the only bird coming to the seed in the rain

As we walked back to the car, there were lots of Bramblings in the trees by the chicken run. We could hear them all calling and chattering as we approached. Presumably they were gathering before going to roost. A large flock of Redwings flew out of the Arboretum and across into the pine trees, presumably also gathering for the night. Both species will be on their way soon, but perhaps it was not a night to be setting off on migration tonight, given the weather. It was time for us to head off now.

The rain coming early this afternoon was a bit of a disappointment, but it was only light and it hadn’t stopped us seeing what we wanted to see. And given the forecast from earlier in the week, we had actually been very fortunate with the weather today, and all the birds.

15th Mar 2017 – Spring Brecks

A Private Tour in the Brecks today, it was to be a relaxed paced day, though that would not hinder us in any way. By 9am, the sun was shining and there was wall to wall blue sky overhead, a glorious day to be out birding.

Our first destination was to be Drymere and Cockley Cley, with Great Grey Shrike and some of the other breeding birds of the forest clearings our targets. As we walked down the ride from the car park, we spotted a pair of Yellowhammers in a small oak tree ahead of us. They dropped down to the ground and started feeding in the long grass and were seemingly unconcerned as we walked right past.

6O0A0111Yellowhammer – the bright yellow-headed male

We walked on a little further along one of the rides, hoping we might bump into a Woodlark, but at first we couldn’t hear any. Then, as we turned to walk back, one flew up from the clearing and began singing its beautiful but rather melancholy song. It hovered up into the air and started to fly round high above the ground. A second Woodlark appeared too, from roughly where the first had come, and flew up into a small tree on the edge of the path. We got it in the scope and had a great look at it, noting the rusty cheeks and striking pale supercilium.

IMG_2032Woodlark – started singing from its perch up in a small tree

At first we thought the second bird might be a female Woodlark, the two having flown up from the same spot, but then it started singing quietly too. It is a real sound of early spring in the forest, listening to the Woodlarks singing in the clearings. As we made our way back to the main ride, a Tawny Owl hooted from deep in a conifer plantation – we have heard a couple of daytime hooters in here in recent days.

The Great Grey Shrike had been favouring a young plantation further down, but when we got there we couldn’t find any sign of it. After a quick look round, we bumped into another couple of birders who told us it had been there earlier, but had been flushed by a dogwalker and flown off. We decided to try our luck elsewhere.

We made our way round to another clearing where we thought there was a chance the shrike might be. As we walked up along the path, we heard a distinctive ringing song from the plantation alongside. It was a Willow Tit, a very scarce bird these days. We hoped it might come out onto the edge but it remained deep in the trees. Unfortunately only a Coal Tit emerged into the sunshine. We listened to the Willow Tit for a while, before turning our attention back to the clearing.

There was no sign of the shrike here either, but looking up into the blue sky and we spotted a Goshawk in the distance, flying towards us. It was getting warm now, with bright sunshine and light winds, and the Goshawk gained height quickly. We noticed a couple of Common Buzzards above it first, then more raptors higher up still. On closer inspection, there were five Goshawks with the Buzzards, all circling together! It is quite a rare occurrence to see quite so many all at once, so we were very pleased but they were high and some distance away, so it was hard to make out much detail.

Fortunately, the next thing we knew we heard a Goshawk calling and an adult male circled up slowly above the trees, much closer to us. It was in no hurry, lurking behind the tops for several minutes before it finally gained height. We could even get it in the scope, noting its clean grey upperparts and striking white underneath. As it circled higher, it alternately disappeared against the blue sky and then flashed white as it turned towards us.

6O0A0143Goshawk – a male circled up out of the trees calling

We lost sight of it as it went higher but, when we heard it calling again, we looked across to see a second Goshawk with it. This was a young bird, a juvenile born last year, with peachy orange tinged underparts and darker brown above. The juvenile female, bigger than the male, was displaying, flying across over the trees with very deep, exaggerated wingbeats. The adult male Goshawk then responded, calling again and doing a burst of rollercoaster display, closing its wings and swooping down before turning up sharply again, repeating this three or four times, losing height all the time back down towards the trees.

That would have been good enough, but we were in for a further treat. The male Goshawk then appeared again, even closer, slow flapping out from the trees and over the ride ahead of us with his white undertail coverts puffed out. The reason soon became clear, as we noticed the big juvenile female Goshawk was circling away to our left over a young plantation. Our view was obscured at first by some trees, but walking quickly forwards we had clear views as she circled overhead for a couple of minutes, gradually drifting further back. Fantastic views and a real treat to see one up so close!

6O0A0203-001Goshawk – this juvenile female circled overhead for a couple of minutes

Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from the Goshawks and make our way back. On the way, we saw several butterflies out in the spring sunshine, Comma, Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock (we would also add Red Admiral to the list later, at Lynford). Several Chiffchaffs were singing from the young plantations – they have arrived back in numbers in the past few days and are busy establishing territories. As we walked along beside a block of mature trees, we could hear the cones crackling in the heat, as they opened and dropped their seeds.

The Great Grey Shrike has been favouring a couple of different areas in recent days, so with it having been disturbed from one, we thought we would take a look at the other. As soon as we walked along the ride and out through the trees, we could see a white shape sat right on the top of a bush in the clearing, even with the naked eye. There was the shrike! It flew across and landed on a young oak tree by the path.

IMG_2078Great Grey Shrike – still in one of its favoured clearings at Cockley Cley

We got the Great Grey Shrike in the scope and had a good look at it. It was not too far away, but we didn’t want to disturb it by trying to get too close, as some others have been doing in recent days. However, while we were watching it, a couple of walkers came down the ride behind us and continued straight on past, despite us obviously looking at something along the path. As they got close to the tree, the Great Grey Shrike was off, in a bounding flight. Fortunately, it came towards us and landed much closer. Now we had really a great view here – we could even see the hooked tip to its bill.

When the Great Grey Shrike flew again, we decided to leave it in peace and make our way back to the car. Having enjoyed such fantastic views of Goshawk here, we now didn’t need to go and look for them elsewhere, so we decided to head over to the RSPB Reserve at Lakenheath Fen. We wouldn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, but it would be a nice place to have lunch and use the facilities. In fact, it was just about lunchtime when we arrived so we stopped for a bite to eat, enjoying the sunshine on the picnic tables outside today.

6O0A0242Reed Bunting – in the sallows by the feeders, waiting to come in

After lunch, we walked up to the visitor centre and out towards the Washland viewpoint. There were several Reed Buntings still coming in to the seed on the bird tables by the visitor centre, but not so many other birds here today. There has been a pair of Garganey on Hockwold Washes in recent days, which we hoped to see. We were told that they were asleep on one edge, but we hadn’t been up at the Washland viewpoint long when a patrol boat came along the river and flushed a lot of the ducks. A couple of Water Pipits flew up from the bank too, calling, but they were hard to get onto as they landed again quickly.

All the ducks flew round and thankfully landed back on the water again. It didn’t take us long to find the pair of Garganey, out in the middle of Washes, the drake giving himself away with his bright white eye stripe catching the sun. They were feeding actively, upending constantly, but they swam steadily back towards us as they did so. We could now see the ornate, elongated scapulars hanging down over the drake’s flanks.

IMG_2098Garganey – this pair were on Hockwold Washes again today

There were plenty of other ducks here too. A party of Wigeon were whistling, the drakes with the creamy yellow stripe up the front of their heads. There were lots of tiny Teal and shovel-billed Shoveler. Several Tufted Ducks and Pochard were busy diving and a pair of Shelduck dropped in. The rather dull coloured Gadwall were in danger of being overlooked – we got them in the scope but unfortunately they were too far away to appreciate their true beauty! The Washland provided a pleasant post-lunch stroll, but we wanted to spend the afternoon at Lynford Arboretum. So, with time pressing, we headed back to the car park.

When we arrived at Lynford, we made our way over the road and up along the path. Several Siskins were feeding in the larches, taking advantage of all the cones popping today to help themselves to some seeds. We could hear Goldcrests singing and watched as one flew across between the trees.

At the feeders, we were told that a couple of Hawfinches had been seen down on the ground earlier, but had been disturbed by the ubiquitous Grey Squirrels! We stopped for a scan anyway, to see what was there. A Nuthatch kept dropping in down on the ground and a steady stream of tits came in to the feeders and fat balls.

We could hear Hawfinches calling from the trees beyond, so we made our way along a little further and looked back into the tops. However, while we were scanning for activity, a quad bike came out of the trees and round on the path past the chicken run. It spooked a single Hawfinch from the trees, but that flew off across the clearing and disappeared deep into the plantation at the back, before anyone could get onto it.

The Hawfinches went quiet for a bit after that disturbance. We went back to the feeders, and contented ourselves with watching the Bramblings. A few were feeding in the leaf litter on the ground but several kept returning to the same couple of branches a few metres up in the Beech trees. Through the scope, we could see that the branches were wet with sap and on one we could even see three fresh, small holes in the bark. The Bramblings were drinking the sap, either wiping their bills sideways on the wet bark or supping it directly from the holes. This is not something which is often recorded, so it was great to be able to watch it.

IMG_2125Brambling – drinking sap from holes in the bark of a beech tree

While we were standing by the feeders, we heard a Firecrest calling behind us. We walked over into the Arboretum and found it flitting around in a small holly tree. Unfortunately, it was moving so fast it was hard for everyone to get a good look at it. It came out on to the edge briefly, but disappeared straight back in. It sang once briefly but then quickly flew back into the fir trees behind and went quiet.

Fortunately, the Hawfinch activity resumed shortly afterwards. Someone spotted two fly in to the trees at the back of the chicken run clearing. The birds landed deep in the trees, but thankfully with their help we were able to get one of them in the scope, a grey brown female, but still sporting a massive nutcracker of a bill. They didn’t stay for very long, but when they flew again they were accompanied by another four, the six Hawfinches all flying off towards the bridge.

IMG_2145Hawfinch – this female perched up obligingly in the top of the Beech trees

Despite the mass exodus, we could still hear the electric ‘ticking’ call of more Hawfinches in the trees and then another two females appeared high in the beeches above the feeders. This was a much better view, with one perched obligingly in the open, framed by the opening buds. After a few minutes they flew off too, but we could still hear ‘ticking’ from the trees.

We walked back towards the feeders to see if we could possibly find one down on the ground, but then heard ‘ticking’ from the Arboretum side of the path. We looked across to see a male Hawfinch perched high in the top of a fir tree. It was silhouetted against the sun at first, but we made sure we had a good look at it in case it flew off. Then we made our way quickly round through the Arboretum to the other side of the fir tree. Thankfully, it stayed perched up in the top, clambering around in the thin branches, calling constantly.

IMG_2217Hawfinch – a brighter male, perched in the top of a fir tree

The Hawfinch seemed to be enjoying the afternoon sunshine from high up on its perch. From this angle, we could see it was much more richly coloured than the female, with russet tones around the face and crown and a contrasting grey nape. A very smart bird! We watched it for some time before eventually it dropped down further into the Arboretum, out of view. We took that as a cue to move on down to the paddocks.

Down at the bridge, we were hoping to find some Common Crossbills coming down to drink. As we arrived, we could hear Crossbills calling, but the six of them flew out and disappeared away over the pines before we could get round and into position. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long before another pair flew in and landed high in the poplars. A bright red male was accompanied by a grey-green female. They perched high up in the branches for a few minutes before flying across into the young pines.

That was great, at least we had seen some Crossbills, but given how they have been performing here recently, we rather fancied a closer look. We walked down to the pines to see if we could find any feeding in here, but the cones here too were cracking in the heat and falling off the trees naturally, which meant we wouldn’t be able to hear where any Crossbills were feeding. We had a look anyway, but couldn’t find any in the trees they have been favouring.

There were three Marsh Tits chasing each other through the bushes along the edge of the paddocks, and we walked round to have a look at the Long-tailed Tit’s nest, which has made quite a bit of progress since yesterday and looks almost finished now.

6O0A0248Long-tailed Tit’s nest – made considerable progress since yesterday afternoon

As we walked back, we heard Crossbills calling back at the bridge and when we got there we could see four up in the poplars now. There were two rather dull rusty males, not bright red like we had seen earlier, and what appeared at first to be a grey-green female next to them. When she finished preening, we could see that she was actually quite an advanced juvenile, with considerable patches of new feathering, but still some streaks on her flanks. A rather brown and streaky fresh juvenile Crossbill was nearby for comparison.

The views here were better than we had enjoyed earlier and the Crossbills stayed in the trees for some time, the older birds preening and the fresh juvenile clambering around eating leaf buds. Eventually, they flew off towards the pines and we made our way back to the bridge. We stood here for a while, watching the various birds coming and going from the seed put out for them. A Marsh Tit darted in a couple of times and a Nuthatch tried its luck on one of the wooden posts further back. There was a steady stream of Long-tailed Tits and Blue Tits too, and a single Reed Bunting.

6O0A0262Long-tailed Tit – coming down to the seed at the bridge

While we were watching all the other birds coming to the seed, we heard a Crossbill calling and saw it land in the alders nearby. It was a very smart, bright red male, but just as we were getting the scope on it, it flew again, but came straight towards us and landed above our heads. Here it perched for a while in the sun, singing. Stunning views!

6O0A0332Common Crossbill – this bright red male perched above us singing

When the male Crossbill flew again, it was followed by a female which we hadn’t noticed arrive with him. The two of them dropped down to drink at a puddle nearby, before flying back up and chasing each other off through the trees. It was getting late now, so we thought that would be a nice way to end the day, and started to make our way back.

When we got to the car park, we were just loading up the car when we heard a crest calling from somewhere high in the fir trees. We walked round to where we could hear it better and sure enough it was a Firecrest, as we thought. We looked right up to the treetops, where the last of the afternoon sun was just catching the highest branches, and we could see it flitting around. There were lots of small flies up there, buzzing around the tree, and it kept flycatching into them. We could just make out its distinctive black and white striped face. The Firecrest sang briefly, then it disappeared back into the trees and we resumed our packing up and departed for the journey home.

What a glorious day in the Brecks it had been, with such fantastic views of so many of our local specialities.

29th March 2015 – Wet & Windy, Brecks Weekend #2

Day 3, the final day of a long weekend of tours today – and the second day down in the Brecks. The weather forecast was bad – and for once, unfortunately, they got it right! But that didn’t stop us from getting out and, as usual, it didn’t stop us from seeing some really good birds.

We started at Santon Downham. We walked over the bridge and heading off alongside the river. A Grey Wagtail flew from some overhanging branches on the other side, past us upstream. A Yellowhammer was singing in the trees. A Chiffchaff nearby was doing just the same – they have arrived in force now. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were chasing each other round on the other side of the river, calling.

A croaking call from along the river alerted us to a single Mandarin flying past. It circled round and landed on the water. When we looked closer, we could see there were three of them on the river, two ducks and a smart drake. They clambered up onto the bank.

P1010729Mandarin – a smart male

The Mandarins were constantly backwards and forwards over the next hour  – flying up and down the river and landing high up in the trees (they are naturally a tree hole nester after all). It was hard to tell how many there were exactly.

P1010750Mandarin – a female perched high up in the trees

It was forecast to start raining at 10am, so we hoped to have a window of dry weather in the morning. Unfortunately the rain arrived an hour early. It wasn’t raining really hard, but it was persistent. At least the wind hadn’t picked up yet.

We stood in the shelter of the trees and listened. Not surprisingly in the cold and wet, activity was subdued. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed sporadically, a Green Woodpecker called occasionally, but that was it. We had hoped to find the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here, but it was probably away in the pines and birches feeding. It was not the weather for it to be drumming. Getting quite damp by this stage, we decided to head back. A Brambling sang its wheezy song from the trees along the river. A flock of Redwing flew ahead of us. A Marsh Tit called from the bushes.

Lynford Arboretum seemed like a good place to head for, with the chance of birding amongst the trees out of the worst of the weather. By the time we got round there, the rain had eased off. We walked up to the gate and stopped to look through the Chaffinches feeding on the ground. Almost immediately, we picked up a Hawfinch which flew down and landed amongst the leaves further back, a female. We got it in the scope and got great views as it fed unobtrusively, admiring its massive bill.

IMG_3624IMG_3627Hawfinch – this female fed quietly on the ground

She flew up into the trees, calling, but returned a short while later. We could hear a male Hawfinch as well, singing up above, but we couldn’t find it amongst the branches. At one point, both birds flew off into the Arboretum, and perched up in one of the trees, but they flew back almost immediately. The two Hawfinches then perched up in a bush amongst the trees, the male singing and the female feeding quietly on buds. Then they flew off again and we decided to move on.

We could already hear a Firecrest singing from the trees behind us. We followed the noise and found the bird amongst the fir trees, in much the same place as we had seen it yesterday. But this time, it was perched lower down and came out in full view on some bare branches. Stunning. It got agitated and began to chase a second bird all round through the trees – presumably another Firecrest. Eventually, it gave up and returned to its favoured trees, still singing. Great views.

We wanted to explore the woodland walk, but it was very quiet in the trees today, apart from the odd Marsh Tit. Perhaps not a surprise, it was still cold and damp. We did pause to admire the Dog Violets in flower along the edges of the path. But we figured it might be a better idea to try something else, so we headed back to the car.

P1120659Dog Violet – lots were in flower alongside the path

We drove up to an area favoured by the Stone Curlews, but on our way there the rain started again and the wind began to pick up. We had a quick look in the fields from the car but couldn’t see anything in any of the likely fields. So, while it was raining, we thought we might as well have an early lunch. The chances of seeing a Goshawk in wind and rain is minimal, but we headed over to a likely site – we thought we might as well try our luck while we were eating.

We watched from the comfort of the car over lunch. A couple of Red Kites circled lazily over the fields, buffeted by the wind. A Sparrowhawk rose briefly out of the wood before thinking better of it. A couple of Common Buzzards did attempt to circle up, but they didn’t get very high, and they spend most of their time down among the trees. That was about all we could realistically have hoped for so, once we had finished eating, we moved on again.

It had stopped raining once more, so we walked into the forest along a ride. A Marsh Tit sang from one side and we could hear lots of Long-tailed Tits on the other. Then we caught a snatch of a distinctive sibilant song from deep within the trees, a Willow Tit. It sang again and again, and eventually we worked out where it was, but before we could get a look it flew out and we lost track of it among the trees. We searched along the ride and found a nice little mixed flock of tits feeding in a sheltered corner – Coal Tits, Blue Tits, and Long-tailed Tit, plus Goldcrests, Treecreeper and a single Chiffchaff. While we were looking through them, the Willow Tit started calling nearby, a distinctive nasal scolding. We caught a couple of glimpses of it among the trees, and in flight, but it didn’t stay still long enough to get everyone onto it. It moved deeper in, so we reluctantly left it to it.

We headed back to have another more thorough look for the Stone Curlews. We had only just got out of the car and started scanning when we saw the rain coming yet again. This time it was falling in stair rods and heading straight for us across the fields, moving quickly on the strengthening wind. We made a beeline back to the car, just in time before it hit us. For five or ten minutes it absolutely lashed down and we couldn’t even see out of the windows. There was thunder and lightning – that wasn’t forecast – and the trees thrashed around in the wind. We sat in the warm and chatted.

We had positioned the car next to one of the Stone Curlews’ favoured fields, although they hadn’t been in there earlier. When the rain finally stopped, we had a casual glance out of the window and there was a Stone Curlew, on the edge of an old maize cover strip. We wound down the windows and realised there were actually three together, huddled down in the field.

P1010763Stone Curlews – emerging after the rain

Then they started to move, shaking the rain off. Scanning across the strip, another two Stone Curlews appeared from the other side and similarly had a shake and a preen. The birds then all started to run around amongst the broken stems. They were remarkably well camouflaged in there, but we could see them as they moved. Some of the Stone Curlews even started to display, little bows, walking with their tails pointed into the air. We watched transfixed from the dry interior of the car.

P1010807Stone Curlew – very well camouflaged in dead maize, as well as stones

We headed back towards base, and with a little time still to play with, decided to have another look at the Great Grey Shrike. It was in its usual place, in the clearing, but spending more time huddled down in the lee of the rowed up tree stumps. A couple of Woodlarks flew round the clearing, singing and calling, and one perched up briefly on a stump.

IMG_3663Great Grey Shrike – in its usual clearing

As the last of the rain blew through, the sky had brightened and there were now big patches of blue sky. Could it be enough to bring out a Goshawk? We returned to the site where we had seen the young male yesterday to chance our luck. We had only just arrived and stopped to look at a couple of Common Buzzards swooping around distantly above some trees when a third bird appeared. It was a little smaller than the Buzzards, but it was still immediately obvious that it was a big and powerful beast. It was the young male Goshawk again. Unfortunately it drifted away from us, through the tree tops, and two Carrion Crows then decided to have a go at it (they were a little smaller than it was – a good size comparison). They chased the Goshawk off even further away, and we could just see it distantly as it circled up a little and then swept down into the trees.

We stood and waited a little, watching to see if it would reappear, like it had done yesterday. Unfortunately it didn’t. Although there was now brightness and some sunshine amongst the clouds, it was very windy (gusting up to 56 mph, checking the Met Office later). We had trouble standing upright, let alone stopping our scopes from being blown over. Perhaps it was no surprise that the Goshawk had disappeared into the trees, and we counted ourselves lucky to have seen it at all under the circumstances – and lucky to have seen as many birds as we had through the day, given all the adverse weather.