Tag Archives: Woodlark

16th Mar 2020 – Last of the Brecks

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. With Government advice to limit travel and social interactions in the light of the worsening Covid-19 epidemic coming after we finished today, this will be the last of any Bird Tours for the next few weeks, though we didn’t know it at the time. Blissfully unaware, we had a great day out – it was mostly cloudy but dry, with some brighter intervals around the middle of the day, and light winds.

Having met in the car park at Lynford, where a Chiffchaff was singing in the trees, we drove off into the Forest to look for Woodlarks. As we pulled up by a clearing and got out, we could hear one singing straight away and picked it up perched high in a deciduous tree on the far side. There were a lot of dog walkers out this morning though, enjoying the better weather today, and someone walked along the path under the trees where the Woodlark was singing and it dropped down into the middle of the clearing.

Another Woodlark dropped into the trees right behind us now, calling. We got the scopes on it quickly, but it was off again before everyone could get a look at it. It flew over and landed in another tree a short distance down the ride, so we walked down for a closer look. Again, we had a good look at it through the scopes but it was quickly on the move again, flying over us and away over the trees.

The first Woodlark was back in the trees on the far side again, so we decided to set off round in that direction. A Mistle Thrush was singing away in a wood over the field and we could hear a Green Woodpecker yaffling. Before we could get to it, the Woodlark dropped down to the ground. When we got round to where it had landed, we stopped and started to scan. We couldn’t find any sign of it at first, but we did notice a flock of Redwings had flown up into the top of a large tree over by the car park now, so we got the scopes on them.

While we were watching the Redwings, the Woodlark flushed from further along the path and flew off over the clearing. This time it fluttered up into the sky and we could hear it singing high over our heads. We watched it flying round over the clearing, singing, noting its distinctive short-tailed, round-winged silhouette. When it dropped sharply back down to the ground, it landed on the top of one of the young pine trees where this time it lingered long enough to get a better look at it.

Woodlark

Woodlark – landed in the top of a young pine tree

There were lots of Yellowhammers around the clearing too today. On the way back round, a nice bright male was perched in the top of an oak tree by the path. Having enjoyed good views of the Woodlarks, we decided to move on.

As it was not too far from here, we decided to head over to Fincham next. As we drove up along Black Drove, we couldn’t see anything on the wires. A car was parked further up and someone was standing next to it with a scope set up. As we pulled up alongside, he told us the Great Grey Shrike had been around earlier but had just disappeared. We drove further up and scanned the bushes and hedges and by the time we had turned around and come back the shrike had reappeared.

We parked on the verge and got out, setting up our scopes on the Great Grey Shrike which was now perched obligingly on a bare branch on a tree the far side of the field. We watched it for a while, periodically dropping down to the ground to look for food before flying up into the top of another small tree further along the edge of the field.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – hunting from the tops of the young trees across the field

There was lots of other activity here too. Several Skylarks were singing and a pair of Lapwings were displaying out in the fields. Further back, we could see several Roe Deer lying down in front of a distant hedge. A pair of Brown Hares were over to one side of the field in front of us and, when a third Hare came running over the three of them stood looking at each other for a minute for setting off on a chase.

The Hares kept stopping and looking at each other. One did a bit of shadow boxing then there were some full on fisticuffs between a couple of them, all interspersed with chasing round. When the third Hare was finally seen off, the remaining pair chased each other, the male running after the female, but she was not interested in his advances and kept kicking out at him whenever he got close.

Brown Hares

Brown Hares – of the ‘Mad March’ variety

It was brightening up now and we knew this would be our best chance of seeing a Goshawk today, so we drove back into the Forest. It was not ideal conditions, with very little wind, but at least it was warming up nicely as parked overlooking the trees. Good numbers of Common Buzzards were already circling up – we had nine together above our heads at one point, even engaging in a bit of swooping display.

The first Goshawk we picked up was quite distant, circling above the trees away to our left, but it was good to get one in the bag early on. It was clearly a different shape to the Common Buzzards, paler below and greyer above. Then another one appeared off to our right. It was thermalling up with a small group of Common Buzzards and quickly gained height until it was way up in the sky.

The third Goshawk was a little closer, but circled up rapidly too before turning and flying in across the road away to our right. They were not displaying much today, probably, due to the lack of wind, but this latest one did break into a short burst of slow flapping display as it flew across. A very distant Sparrowhawk did put on a bit of rollercoaster display, while a second one a bit closer was just circling up like the Goshawks, but clearly smaller and slighter and with a more pinched in tail.

The surprise of the morning was a Merlin which shot across in front of the trees at the back of the field, disappearing from view before reappearing as it flew over the road and out across the fields behind us. They are scarce in winter this far inland, so this was a real bonus to see one here.

Otherwise, there were lots of Skylarks singing here and Yellowhammers, Linnets and Meadow Pipits flying in and out of the fields. A mixed flock of Fieldfares and Starlings kept dropping out of the pines and into the back of the field behind us.

The Stone Curlews have just started to return to the Brecks and we planned to have a quick drive round before lunch to see if we could find one. Someone else we knew had gone on ahead to do the same, so it was very helpful when we received a message to say that he had found one. We drove straight over and were soon watching it out in a stony field.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – a recent arrival back in the Brecks

By the time we got there, we were told there were actually three Stone Curlews, but the other two were down in the furrows and not visible from where we were standing. Still, we figured one was enough for us and eventually one of the others did stand up so we could see two of them together.

We went round to Brandon for lunch. It was brighter now and it felt rather spring-like eating outside on the picnic tables. A Nuthatch was piping up in the trees and one or two tits were coming and going from the feeders. After lunch, we walked down to the lake. There were five Mandarin here today, a pair on the platform on the outside of the duck house and another three, two males and a female, on the water over the far side, which swam over to join the others as we walked up.

Mandarin

Mandarin – one of five on the lake today

Our final destination for the day was Lynford Arboretum. As we walked in, a Nuthatch flew up from the ground by the entrance where some food had been put out and up into a nearby pine tree. In contrast, there was no food left on the ground further along, looking down under the trees from the gate, and there were very few birds here today. We continued on down to the paddocks.

A male Hawfinch was down on the ground under the first hornbeam when we arrived, but it was just over a small ridge and in the long grass we could only see its head up occasionally. A greyer female then appeared under the tree too, a little easier to see than the male.

We could hear the quiet ticking calls of a Hawfinch in the trees and looked across to see two males now in the middle hornbeam. Through the scope, we had a much better view of these before they dropped down through the branches and we lost sight of them.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – there were at least four in the paddocks this afternoon

We picked up a Hawfinch in the ash trees next, but it quickly dropped down and we realised there were at least three now feeding on the ground below. Again, they seemed to know how to hide and were mostly just over a low ridge in the grass. When they flew up into the trees we couldn’t see them from where we were, so we walked up to the far end of the paddocks and found them again in the third hornbeam. They were a bit more distant from here, but they were now not moving so quickly, perched in the branches preening.

There were a couple of Mistle Thrushes in the paddocks too, and we could see them out on the grass from here. A few Redwings flew in and landed high in the trees. Two Grey Herons came up from the direction of the lake.

Back at the bridge, there were lots of birds coming and going from the food on the bridge. We stood for a while and watched and had great views of Siskins here today, with several birds on the feeders, and a selection of tits including Marsh Tits and Long-tailed Tits feeding on the fat in the coconut shells. A Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Treecreeper didn’t linger long enough for everyone to see them.

Siskin

Siskin – we had great views of them today, coming down to the feeders

The Little Grebe was laughing madly again from the reeds behind us, so we took a quick walk along the path which runs down beside the lake. It was out on the front edge of the reeds at first, but dived as soon as it saw us and then tried to hide in the vegetation. We could just see it in the reeds as it resurfaced. There were a couple of Gadwall in with the Mallards on the water and Canada Geese and Greylags on the lawn in front of the hotel.

As we made our way back up through the Arboretum, we stopped to look at the Tawny Owl perched high in its usual tree. There was only one there again today, and it had managed to tuck itself even further in amongst the branches, but with a bit of trial and error we found an angle where we could get a scope on it. A Goldcrest was flitting around high in the trees nearby.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – well hidden in its usual tree today

Back up at the gate, there was still very little activity down on the ground under the trees. Looking in the blackthorn on the other side, on the edge of the orchard, we could see at least seven Yellowhammers in the white blossom. There were several Chaffinches too, but we couldn’t find any Bramblings here today – presumably they were feeding elsewhere, given the lack of food on the ground.

Unfortunately, it was time to call it a day now. It was just a short walk back to the car park, where we had started the day and where we now bade our farewells.

14th Mar 2020 – Back to Breckland

A scheduled group Brecks Tour today. The overnight rain took slightly longer to clear through this morning than forecast, but once it did the rest of the day was mostly dry and even brightened up nicely around the middle of the day.

It was still drizzling lightly when we met down in the Brecks and as we drove round and pulled up by a clearing in the forest. There were no Woodlarks singing when we arrived, so we stopped to scan the paddocks opposite. A small group of Redwings was feeding down on the grass and a single bright male Brambling was in with some Chaffinches.

A Green Woodpecker was yaffling from somewhere in the trees – it was unusually vocal this morning and its calls followed us round continually all the time we were here. A pair of Marsh Tits called to each other but moved through the trees in the back of the parking area very quickly. A Treecreeper paused slightly longer, working its way up the trunks of a couple of the trees before flying off.

Once the drizzle had stopped, we set off to walk round the clearing. There was no shortage of Yellowhammers here this morning – singing, calling, perching very obligingly in the tops of the trees. But we couldn’t find any sign of the Woodlarks, either round the clearing or feeding in the field next door where they can usually be found. Given the weather, they had probably gone off to find somewhere sheltered. A Mistle Thrush was singing from the trees across the field.

We decided to try our luck in the next clearing a little further down the ride into the forest. At first, here too all we could find were more Yellowhammers but as we walked along the back of the clearing a pair of Woodlarks came in over the trees behind us. We watched as they fluttered across, short-tailed, and appeared to drop down on the edge of the ride.

When we got back round to the ride, we could see the male Woodlark perched on a tussock on the verge. We got it in the scopes and had a good look at it, before it walked quietly into the long grass. We then walked slowly down the ride to where it had disappeared and could now see the pair feeding quietly between the rows of young trees. It was a great opportunity to compare the two – the male with a brighter pale supercilium and rustier ear coverts. We could also see the distinctive way their supercilia met in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – we watched the pair feeding quietly in the grass

While we were watching the Woodlarks, a large flock of Redwings came low over the tops of the pines nearby. They have been on the move recently, coming back across the country ahead of making the journey back to Scandinavia for the breeding season, and these were probably migrants which were stopping off here. A Sparrowhawk shot fast and low out of the trees and across the track.

Rather like buses, there were now Woodlarks everywhere! As we walked back along the ride to the first clearing, we could now hear one singing here too. We found it perched in the top of a tree right at the back, but still through the scope we could see its bill opening and closing as it sang. Then another pair of Woodlarks flew up from the clearing and landed in a tree close to us, where we could see the female was carrying nesting material.

When the female Woodlark dropped down to the ground, the male flew to another tree right by the path, where it perched preening and singing quietly. We had fill the frame views through the scope now, with a good look at its extraordinary long hind claws.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – singing quietly in a tree while the female fed on the ground below

Having finally enjoyed such great views of the Woodlarks, we decided to head straight round to try our luck with Goshawks next. It was still very grey and cloudy, with a fresh wind blowing, but at least there was a vague hint of some paler cloud to the west.

As we parked at a spot overlooking the forest, our prospects didn’t immediately look promising. There were not even any Common Buzzards up now. There were several Skylarks singing, a pair of Lapwings displaying behind us, a Curlew feeding in a recently ploughed strip and two Brown Hares in a field. A large flock of Fieldfares flew in over our heads tchacking loudly and landed in the tops of the trees behind us, where we could get the scopes on them. There were a few more Redwings in with them too – we could hear their teeezing calls as the flew over. More winter thrushes on the move.

Gradually, one or two Common Buzzards came up although they were not gaining any great height this morning. A few crumbs of encouragement perhaps. Then the clouds changed from dark grey to light grey and that was all that was needed. A male Goshawk circled up out of the trees. Its white undertail coverts were fluffed out and it started to fly with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, displaying.

That would have been good enough on its own today, but then another Goshawk appeared over the trees closer to us. Through the scopes we could see this one was browner above and more buffy-coloured below, a young bird from last year, now in its second calendar year, and it was big too, a female. It started to display as well, presumably the reason why the male had come up to remind the youngster that this was its territory. We could get both birds in the scopes displaying at one point, and then the male turned and chased after the young female, and we lost sight of both of them behind the trees.

Goshawk

Goshawk – this 2cy female was one of 4 up this morning

Scanning over the trees again now, we realised there was another pair of Goshawks up displaying much further over. We had gone from none to four up displaying in a matter of minutes. A distant Marsh Harrier circling up was more of a surprise to see here. Then the young female Goshawk appeared above the tops of the trees in front of us again and we turned our attention back to that. It had clearly not learnt its lesson!

Eventually, when the last Goshawk disappeared from view, we decided to move on. Someone told us there had been a couple of Stone Curlews around earlier, so we decided to go looking to see if we could find them. They are only just returning now. As we drove up the road, several Roe Deer were flushed out of the trees by a truck driving through them and scattered out across the fields beside the road. A couple of Shelduck were on the edge of a flooded dip in a field beside the road.

Unfortunately, there was no sign of the Stone Curlews now (we were warned there had been a Land Rover driving across the field earlier) and all we could find were a couple of Oystercatchers. We tried another nearby field they often favour, but there was no sign of any there either, although we did find a pair of Grey Partridge in the gateway to the field opposite. Back round the other side of the first field, another quick scan failed too. One or two Tree Sparrows were calling in the hedge here.

It was time for lunch now, so we made our way over to Brandon. With the sun now just about shining, it was nice eating out on the picnic tables, where a Nuthatch was piping in the trees. Afterwards, a quick walk down to the lake produced a couple of pairs of Mandarin Ducks, with one of them feeding out on the grass and the other on the water in the reeds. A Goldcrest was singing in the fir trees above us.

Mandarin

Mandarin Duck – a smart drake, one of four birds still today

We didn’t want to run the risk of missing the Hawfinches, so we made our way straight round to Lynford Arboretum after lunch. As we walked in along the track, two people waved at us from the gate to say a Hawfinch was showing from there. When we got over, there was indeed a female Hawfinch down on the ground not very far from us. A great view!

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – this female was on the ground in front of the gate when we arrived

All the birds spooked and flew up into the trees, but after a minute or so the Hawfinch dropped down again, just a little further back. We watched it hopping around, picking at the seed put down in the leaves for a couple of minutes before everything spooked again. We waited for a while, watching all the other birds coming and going, but the Hawfinch did not come back a third time.

There were plenty of other birds here though – with several Bramblings feeding down with the Chaffinches. They have been in short supply this winter, so it is always great to see some and one or two were very close again today. There were several Yellowhammers too, a Nuthatch, and a selection of tits, all coming down to feed.

Brambling

Brambling – good views of several of these too, from the gate

Despite having enjoyed good views of the female Hawfinch from the gate, we still headed down to the paddocks to see if we could see some more. There were at least six more here, including at least four smart males, more richly chestnut coloured than the greyer-brown females. They were all up in the hornbeams when we arrived, so we got the scopes on them and admired their huge, cherry stone-cracking bills.

It was hard to tell exactly how many there were, with some hidden in amongst the tangles of branches and with other birds flying back and forth between the trees. Some of the Hawfinches then flew over to the first hornbeam and dropped down to feed on the ground. We had good views of a male and female feeding together here.

Hawfinch 2

Hawfinch – we watched some feeding under the trees in the paddocks

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from the Hawfinches and we walked back to the bridge. There had been no food put out when we walked down, but we had sprinkled a couple of generous handfuls of sunflower seeds out earlier and there was now a steady procession of birds coming and going.

As well as the ever present Blue Tits and Great Tits, a couple of Long-tailed Tits popped in briefly and a Marsh Tit kept darting in and out. A Nuthatch would have come in too, but some people were standing too close to the pillar and it kept shooting past and not stopping, landing instead in the trees either side. There were several Siskins in the alders here too.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – reluctant to come in to the seed, with people standing too close

A Little Grebe was laughing madly from the reeds in the lake behind us, so we had a quick walk down beside the water. We couldn’t find the Little Grebe in the reeds but we did find another one diving under the overhanging branches in the middle of the lake. We got the scope on a drake Gadwall to admire the intricacy of the patterns of its feathers.

As we made our way back through the Arboretum, we stopped to look at the Tawny Owl in its usual tree. There was only one here today, and it was well hidden in the branches high in the tree, but after some trial and error we found a good angle where we could get a half decent view of it through the scopes. A Goldcrest was flitting around high in the fir trees above us while we were watching it.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – just one today, well hidden in its usual tree

We still had enough time to fit in a quick trip up to Fincham to see if we could see the Great Grey Shrike. There was no one else there when we arrived and no sign of the shrike on the wires, but as we pulled up by a gap in the hedge we scanned across the field beside us and could see it perched in the top of a young oak tree over the far side. We all piled out and had good views of it through the scopes. A scarce winter visitor here from Scandinavia, it may not be too long now before it heads off on its journey back north.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – perched in the top of a young oak tree when we arrived

After a while, the Great Grey Shrike flew across to another tree, where we could still just see it through the lower branches of a big oak closer to us. After some last admiring glances, it was time to head back. It was a suitably good bird to wrap up another good day’s birding in the Brecks.

12th Mar 2020 – More Brecks Birding

Another Private Tour in the Brecks today, with a different group. It was a very windy day again, with gusts over 40mph for much of the day. At least it was mostly bright, and the only blustery shower we came across was while we were driving. We had a good day out regardless, as we usually do, and saw a nice selection of Breckland birds.

It was rather quiet this morning, as we pulled up by a large clearing on the edge of the forest, with no birds singing. Scanning the paddocks opposite produced a small flock of Meadow Pipits still. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were out on the short grass further over, by the edge of the trees, and a lone Redwing was nearby.

We heard Woodlarks calling and turned round to see three flying up from the middle of the clearing. They appeared to land over the far side, where it was a bit more sheltered, so we walked round to see if we could find them. Several Yellowhammers flew up from the edge of the clearing and up into the pines. We could hear Woodlark singing quietly and it didn’t take long to find them feeding down in the vegetation.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of a pair feeding quietly in the clearing

There was a pair of Woodlarks walking around together, the female feeding constantly while the male kept stopping to look around from a low perch, a small tussock or clod of earth, singing quietly. They gradually worked their way closer to the path, and we had a great look at them through the scope – we could see the way their white supercilia met in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck and the black and white feather pattern on the bend of the wing.

Eventually, the Woodlarks flew up and dropped back down further back out of view. We walked back to where we had parked, stopping to look at a pair of Yellowhammers in the trees on our way.

There had been some brighter intervals early on, but it clouded over as we drove round to our next stop, where we had hoped to look for Goshawks. It was exposed here and we could feel the full force of the wind. There were just one or two Common Buzzards up this morning, much fewer than usual, and it looked like we might be out of luck. Still, we found some shelter in the lee of the bus and decided to give it a few minutes. Three Skylarks came up from the field in front and hovered low over the crop and we could see several more over the grass behind us. A single Shelduck flew past high over the trees.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long before a Goshawk appeared over the trees. It came over towards us, a young bird, one of last year’s broods, hanging in the wind. It was up for a couple of minutes, flying back and forth giving us a chance to get a good look at it, before it turned and dropped back behind the trees out of view.

Goshawk

Goshawk – this young bird came up for a couple of minutes

In other circumstances, we would normally stay here for a while watching the Goshawks but given the conditions today we decided to bank that one and head on to try something else. We drove round to Fincham to look for the Great Grey Shrike. On our way, we stopped to look at a large flock of gulls loafing in a field which had recently been cultivated – mostly Black-headed Gulls, but in with them were quite a few Common Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.

When we got there, we found another couple of people already looking from their cars and we spoke to one of them who had been there for an hour and a half without success. We drove slowly up the road, scanning the wires and the hedges, and we did find a large group of Roe Deer out in one of the fields, several Brown Hares, a pair of Egyptian Geese and some Lapwings.

The shrike had undoubtedly found somewhere sheltered, out of the wind and out of sight of the road. We didn’t fancy sitting in the bus scanning, with no idea if or when it might reappear, so we decided to move on. As we drove slowly back down the road, a Red Kite was hanging over the trees in the distance.

We did find a pair of Grey Partridges in the edge of the field. The male ducked down as we pulled up and tried to hide behind a large pile of mud and stones, but we could still see its orange face looking out. Then both of them ran and flew out into the middle of the field where they ducked down again and were instantly camouflaged against the earth.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – the male ducked down but we could see it looking out at us

We drove through a sharp shower now, but it had passed over and brightened up by the time we arrived at Santon Downham. We walked up to the churchyard, but the tall firs and bushes around the edge were getting caught by the wind.

We thought we might have more luck walking down through the trees, but it was quiet here too. We did have a pair of Marsh Tits feeding low down in the bushes as we got back towards the road. There was nothing on the river from the bridge, but a Nuthatch was calling up in the poplars and a Goldcrest was singing in the firs and showed very well feeding on one of the outer branches.

Goldcrest

Goldcrest – showed very well in the fir trees by the bridge

We went round to Brandon for lunch. It was sunny now and sheltered in the trees, so we sat out on the picnic tables and watched the comings and goings at the feeders. We had a nice comparison of Coal Tit and Marsh Tit side by side, on several occasions on the same feeder together. A pair of Nuthatches dropped in, the more richly coloured male co-ordinated against the orange trunk of a Scots Pine. The female took a peanut from one of the feeders, forced into into the bark of the tree and proceeded to hammer at it in situ to break bits off.

After lunch, we walked down to the lake. As well as all the Mallards, there were two pairs of Mandarin Ducks in residence. One pair were hiding in the shade on the platform of the duck house, but the other pair were over under the bank on the far side when we arrived and then swam over towards us, allowing us to admire them in the sunshine out in the middle of the water. Smart birds!

Mandarins

Mandarin Ducks – this pair swam out into the sunshine

While we were admiring the Mandarins, we turned round and noticed a Treecreeper feeding very low down on the trunk of an old silver birch in the lawn behind us. We watched as it picked its way around probing in the crevices and at one point it obviously found something as it stopped to have a really good root around. More typically, it then disappeared round the back of the tree, though thankfully not before we had enjoyed a really good look at it.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – probing in the bark of an old silver birch down by the lake

Our destination for the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. Once again, we made our way straight down to the paddocks to look for the Hawfinches. We had been told on the way down that they were feeding under the first hornbeam, but when we arrived there were no birds at all on the ground there and it looked rather quiet.

We continued on to the next gap in the hedge and looked across to the second hornbeam. Scanning the branches carefully, we found first one and then a second Hawfinch in amongst them, both females. We got the scope on them and watched them for a few minutes, admiring their huge cherry stone-cracking bills, and then a male appeared in between them, more richly chestnut coloured.

Looking across to the first Hornbeam, we spotted two more Hawfinches fly down to feed on the ground below. Two more females, the light was much better looking in this direction although they could be hard to see at times – remarkable how such a large finch could disappear into the short vegetation! One of the birds then flew over from the second hornbeam and perched half way up in the bushes above them.

The others came up too, and we could now see three Hawfinches together, two females and a male. They were perched in the sunshine and it was a really good view of them here now. The male had been feeding on the buds and hopped over to feed one of the females at one point.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – the brighter male perched in the afternoon sunshine

Having enjoyed great views of the Hawfinches, we walked back to the bridge. There were several Siskins flitting around in the trees above and lots of birds coming and going from the seed put out on the various piers and posts. We had good views of a selection of tits, Nuthatch, Chaffinches and a pair of Reed Buntings here.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming down to the food put out at the bridge

We could hear a Little Grebe laughing madly from the lake behind us, so we had a short walk down the path beside it. We could only just see the head of the Little Grebe deep in the reeds, but we did see a smart pair of Gadwall. Continuing on to the back of the hall, there were several Greylags and Canada Geese on the lawn. A Moorhen walking along the far edge of the water looked very smart, its yellowish legs shining in the afternoon sun.

Walking back up through the Arboretum, we stopped to admire the two Tawny Owls which were roosting high in their usual tree. We had a good view through the scope – fill the frame views!

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – one of the two roosting in their usual tree again

There hadn’t been very many birds feeding from the gate on our way down, there didn’t look to be much food left on the ground today, but there were more birds in the trees around the orchard. We stopped to admire all the Yellowhammers perched in amongst the white blackthorn blossom and noticed a couple of Bramblings feeding on the buds there. A brighter male kept dropping down out of view, but a female appeared right on the outside of one of the bushes and showed well for everyone.

While we were watching the birds by the orchard, someone now sprinkled a couple of handfuls of fresh seed down just beyond the gate. It didn’t take long for the birds to find it, and we stopped here to admire several smart Yellowhammers which dropped down to feed.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – coming down to food in front of the gate

We still had a short time before we were due to finish, so we drove a short distance to a nearby location to try for Firecrest. We thought it might be sheltered here in the trees, but the firs on the edge were getting caught by the wind and the box bushes underneath were in the shade. It was quiet in the trees, but there were more birds on the edge. We stopped to look at a flock of tits – Marsh, Coal, Blue and Great Tits – but couldn’t find anything else feeding with them, apart from one or two Chaffinches.

It was time to call it a day now. Despite the wind, we had seen a great variety of birds and enjoyed an interesting day out exploring the Brecks.

11th Mar 2020 – Breckland Birding

A Private Tour today, down in The Brecks. It was a bright morning, clouding over a bit in the afternoon but staying dry, with the wind becoming more blustery in the afternoon.

As we pulled up alongside a large forest clearing, we looked over the other side to see a Woodlark in the paddocks. As we got out, another flew over calling, circled round over the edge of the clearing and landed in a tree behind us. We got the scope on the paddocks and could now see there was a pair feeding there in the short grass. While we were watching them, another Woodlark started singing a little further over and we watched it in song-flight, fluttering into the breeze up against the patchy blue sky.

There were some other birds around the paddocks too. A flock of Meadow Pipits was feeding in the grass beyond the Woodlarks and a Mistle Thrush appeared on the track at the front. Two smart male Bramblings dropped down to feed nearby. They have been in short supply this winter, with few comparatively coming over from Scandinavia this year, and the few we have had hear will soon be heading back north.

As we walked along the path on the edge of the clearing, we heard a Woodlark singing above us and watched as it dropped down into the field the other side. It joined a female which was already on the ground and we got the scope on the pair of them as they fed in the short spring crop. They gradually worked their way towards us and we had a good view now of the distinctive head pattern and the black and white patch on the edge of the wing.

Woodlark

Woodlark – we had great views of a pair feeding in the field by the clearing

There were several Yellowhammers around the clearing too, and we could hear them calling and singing and saw one or two perched up in the trees. As we made our way back to the minibus, a Green Woodpecker was yaffling somewhere in the trees.

We had done so well for Woodlarks, and seen them so quickly this morning, that we now had a little extra time to call in at another ride briefly. We could hear lots of Redwings singing in the trees by the parking area as we set off. There were lots of Blackbirds in there too and we could see some of the Redwings flying in and out of a thick tangle of bushes. Presumably they had roosted here overnight.

As we walked in along the ride, a kronking call alerted us to two Ravens flying in, which appeared briefly low over the trees beside us before they turned and banked away out of view. Raven is still a rare bird in this part of the country, so this was a nice bonus this morning. A Chiffchaff was singing in a scrubby overgrown young plantation the other side of the track, the first we have heard this year and possibly a returning spring migrant. A flock of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests was flitting around in the small trees too.

We walked on into the edge of the pines and stopped by the feeding table. There were lots of tits coming and going, including lots of Coal Tits and several Marsh Tits too. We could only spend a short time here this morning, as our main priorities lay elsewhere, but there was no sight nor sound of any Willow Tits while we were there today.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – there were lots coming and going from the feeding table

Our next target for the day was Goshawk, so we drove round and parked at a high point overlooking the forest. It was bright, but a bit more exposed and breezier here, chilly in the wind. Still, several Common Buzzards were already up and we didn’t have to wait too long before two distant Goshawks circled up above the trees. One drifted off left away from us, but the other came right, over the back of the trees in front of us, before eventually dropping down out of view behind the tops.

It was a good start, but with the bright conditions we still hoped we might get one closer or in display flight, so we continued scanning. A distant Sparrowhawk came up, much smaller than the Goshawks, and gave us a quick burst of rollercoaster display, giving us more hope, and a Kestrel was hovering out over the field behind. There were several Skylarks in the sky singing too and Yellowhammers in and out of the cover strip in the field in front.

Then another Goshawk circled up out of the trees in front of us, closer this time. It had its fluffy white undertail coverts ‘flagged’, puffed out and wrapped round its tail, which instantly stood out. It started displaying, slow flapping, with deep, powerful, exaggerated wingbeats.

Goshawk

Goshawk – came up displaying over the trees

We watched the Goshawk displaying over the tops of the trees for a couple of minutes, before it lost height and disappeared down over the trees to our left. Great stuff and we hadn’t even had to wait too long today. We decided to move on.

We drove down to Santon Downham and parked in the Forestry Commission car park. We had received a message to say that the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers had been very elusive this morning, just heard calling very occasionally over the last couple of hours and not seen since very early first thing. Still we decided to have quick look along the river anyway, as it can be nice along there at this time of year and we thought we might see some different things.

Siskin

Siskin – singing in the gardens by the bridge

A Siskin was singing in a pine tree in one of the gardens, as we walked down to the bridge, and a couple more were on the feeders which have now been restocked. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming from deep in the poplars by the road. As we set off along the river bank, a Kingfisher flew out from the bank as we passed calling, and zipped off downstream.

It was the middle of the day, but it was still rather quiet along here now. We heard a Marsh Tit singing and a Nuthatch calling in the trees. We had a quick listen where the woodpeckers have been seen at times in the last few weeks, but there was nothing happening here. Given others’ experiences this morning, we didn’t linger and walked back for lunch.

We stopped for lunch by the church. The wind had picked up a bit now and was catching the trees in the back of the churchyard, so perhaps not surprisingly there was no sign of the Firecrest. Still, it was a nice place to sit on the bench in the sunshine and eat. A Sparrowhawk zipped through the tops of the firs.

After lunch, we made our way round to Lynford. As we crossed the road, someone had put some food down under a bush by the entrance, and a Nuthatch was trying to come in but reluctant to do so with people passing close by. It perched calling in a nearby tree. We had a quick look from the gate under the trees. There was some more seed out today and more birds coming down to feed, with at least six Bramblings including a couple of bright orange-breasted males.

Brambling

Brambling – at least six were feeding from the gate as we walked down

We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the Hawfinches, so we continued on down to the paddocks. There were a few Chaffinches under the first of the trees in the middle and after scanning for a few minutes one female Hawfinch appeared with them, quickly joined by a second. We watched them for a bit, feeding down in the grass, then everything flushed.

The Hawfinches flew into the next hornbeam over so we walked on to the next gap in the hedge. We could see at least five Hawfinches now and we got the scope on two of them in the tops, before they gradually moved across into the thicker ash trees and got harder to see. There were other birds in the trees here too, a Mistle Thrush and lots of Redwings, to have a look at. Then when we heard a Hawfinch calling back in the first tree, we turned to see a smart male perched right in the top.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male perched in the top of one of the hornbeams, calling

The male perched calling for a minute or two, then flew across into the ash trees to join the others. Most of the Hawfinches disappeared into the tangle of branches and all seemed to have gone quiet before we picked up two flying out of the back of the trees, heading off to roost. Good timing!

We made our way back to the bridge now, where there were lots of tits coming in to the food on the pillars. We had very good views of Marsh Tits here and a Nuthatch which shot in from time to time to grab a bill full of seeds, mostly when we were looking the other way!

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – eyeing up the sunflower seeds put out at the bridge

There were Siskins in the trees above and a Reed Bunting on the ground by the lake. A Grey Wagtail flew over calling and a Treecreeper put in a very brief appearance. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers chased each other through the tops of the poplars high above us.

As we walked back, we stopped to look at the two Tawny Owls which were roosting in their usual tree.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – one of the two roosting together in their usual tree

Back up at the gate, there was still lots of activity, with birds coming and going from the seed on the ground among the leaves. We stopped again and watched the Bramblings and Yellowhammers, among all the tits and Chaffinches.

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer – coming down to the seed in the leaves in front of the gate

There was one last treat in store to finish the day, the grand finale at Fincham. As we pulled into the drove, we scanned the wires ahead of us and there was the Great Grey Shrike, perched a little further up beside the road. We pulled up and got the scopes on it. It dropped down several times and back up again, hunting. Then it flew out to a couple of isolated bushes on the far edge of the field.

We walked a little further up too, and got it in the scopes again. It was still hunting very actively, dropping down to the ground repeatedly. Then on one of its sorties, it suddenly set off low over the ground and we watched as it chased after and caught a bumble bee. It took it back to its favourite bush and after subduing it, dropped down through the branches and impaled it to eat later. Great Grey Shrikes are not known as ‘butcher birds’ for nothing!

Great Grey Shrike 1

Great Grey Shrike – switched to hovering out over the field, hunting

The Great Grey Shrike seemed to shift hunting tactics now, and kept flying out from the bushes and hovering out over the field, a couple of metres up from the ground, scanning for prey. Very interesting to watch. Eventually it flew back onto the wires, just a short distance up the road from where we were standing and we had even closer views of it through the scope.

Great Grey Shrike 2

Great Grey Shrike – flew back to the wires, much closer to where we were standing

It was a great way to finish the day, watching the Great Grey Shrike here. But it was time to wrap things up now and head back, so we left the shrike to its hunting and headed for home.

7th Mar 2020 – Winter, Brecks & Goshawks, Day 2

Day 2 of our three day Winter, Brecks & Goshawks tour today. It was rather cloudy and grey first thing, with some brief spits of rain which were not in the forecast. Thankfully it didn’t come to anything, and remained dry thereafter, with some sunny intervals developing from late morning. The wind was very light again first thing, but did pick up a bit through the day. We headed back down to the Brecks in the morning, but finished the day up in North Norfolk.

When we got down to the Brecks it was spitting with rain – not the weather we were hoping for to look for Woodlarks. We parked by a large clearing and as we got out of the minibus a Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling. We looked across to the other side to see it perched in the top of a tree. A Green Woodpecker yaffled too. There were several birds feeding in the paddocks across the road – a small flock of Meadow Pipits, mixed finches, a couple of Mistle Thrush and a Redwing.

As we walked round the clearing, it was fairly quiet at first, with activity perhaps curtailed by the weather. Several Yellowhammers were flying in and out of the pines at the back, down into the clearing and back up, calling and singing. Two males spiralled up out of the tops of the trees fighting.

We saw something drop down into the grass in the far corner, so made our way over to see what we could find. We could hear a Woodlark singing quietly now, but couldn’t see it at first. It was down on the ground, hidden in the long grass. Then one flew up from further over, out in the middle of the clearing, and started singing. A second, possibly the one we had been listening to, also flew up and landed in the trees at the back, where we could get it in the scope.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – flew up and landed in the trees at the back of the clearing

There was quite a bit of Woodlark activity now, involving at least three birds. We watched the Woodlark in the tree at the back for a while, before it dropped back down into the grass. We managed to see it on the ground this time, and a second bird nearby calling was possibly a female. When another male flew in, the two of them chased each other back up into the trees. But apart from the first bit of song flight, the males were only singing from perches in the trees or down on the ground this morning.

Having enjoyed good views of the Woodlarks, we drove round to another forest track and walked up into the trees. We were looking for Willow Tit here and there were certainly lots of tits coming and going from the feeding table set up in the pines. We stood and watched for a while, but all the black capped tits we saw were dozens of Coal Tits and a good number too of Marsh Tits. A Nuthatch typically darted in, grabbed a seed, and was back off into the trees.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – there were dozens coming down to the feeding table

Then we heard a Willow Tit calling in the pines, a distinctive nasal scolding call. It was deep in at first, but gradually came closer each time we heard it again. Eventually it made its way to the edge of the trees and we managed to pick it out, feeding high in the pines. It seemed to be feeding on the cones. A second Willow Tit was still calling, deeper in. The first bird looked like it was making its way towards the feeding table, but it never dropped down and disappeared back into the trees behind. Both the Willow Tits then went quiet again.

The Willow Tits here are a small remnant population: the species has disappeared rapidly from large swathes of southern Britain in recent years and they are still just about clinging on here. They can be difficult to see in the dense coniferous plantations, spending much of their time up in the tops of the trees, so we had done well to get such prolonged views of one today. We decided to move on.

The weather was starting to brighten up and the wind seemed like it had picked up a little, so we headed over to see if we could find a Goshawk. We parked on a high point, overlooking the forest, where several other people had already gathered. While we were getting out of the minibus, someone came over to say there was a Goshawk perched in the top of a fir tree across the field in front. We got the scope straight on it, but unfortunately it dropped down before everyone could get a look and disappeared into the trees. Still, it was a good start.

With the brighter weather, there were lots of Common Buzzards circling up now, including a striking pale one. A Red Kite came up too, off in the distance. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long before another Goshawk appeared. It circled up above the trees, a male, grey above and pale whitish below. It was distant at first, drifting first one way, then back the other. Then it turned and headed straight towards us. It was not displaying today, but flying purposefully, with deep and powerful wingbeats interspersed with short glides. It headed away to our right slightly, crossing the road as we lost sight of it behind some trees.

Goshawk

Goshawk – a male, flew up out of the trees and in across the road

When all the Woodpigeons came out of the trees, this would normally mean a Goshawk was hunting, but this time a Peregrine appeared instead. It flew out low over the treetops, across the field and over the road. It followed the line of the shelter belt on the far side of the field beyond us, flushing all the pigeons from there too, before disappearing off over the trees behind us. A Sparrowhawk made a brief appearance too and a Kestrel hovering over the field behind us added to an excellent variety of raptors here this morning.

It was almost time for lunch now, but we figured we had time for one more quick stop first. We made our way deeper into the forest and parked at the head of another ride. As we walked in, we heard a Woodlark overhead and looked up to see it fluttering over the trees beside the path singing. It flew round past us and disappeared back over the road, beyond where we had parked.

We had just started to walk back to look for it when the Woodlark came back overhead singing again and dropped down into the clearing further down the track. So we turned round again and walked over to where it had seemed to go down. We were scanning the low vegetation when it walked out from behind a low bank right by the path, just a couple of metres from us. It took off but thankfully landed just a couple of metres further back, and we had a great view of it as it picked its way through the vegetation feeding, stopping on the top of a small clod of earth. Cracking views and a better photo opportunity than the ones we had seen earlier, for the photographers in the group.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – showed very well right beside the path

The Woodlark gradually made its way back into the long grass, so we headed back to the minibus and drove round to Brandon again for lunch and a welcome hot drink.

After lunch, we made our way north to Fincham. A Red Kite was hunting out over the fields as we drove down the road and found somewhere to park. As we got out, we could already see the Great Grey Shrike on the wires a little further up. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it.

Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike – showed well on the wires at Fincham

The Great Grey Shrike was very mobile, dropping down into the field to look for food, and then back up to the wires. It flew across to some bushes along the edge of the field further up, and spent some time hunting from there, then came back up onto the wires by the road. When it flew across the road and went further out across the field the other side we decided to move on.

We had managed to catch up with most of our main targets in the Brecks (and surrounding areas) now, so we decided to head up to the North Norfolk coast for the rest of the afternoon. The wintering Rough-legged Buzzard at Wells had gone AWOL for a couple of weeks but had then reappeared back in its usual bush a couple of days ago, as if nothing had happened. As we pulled up in the layby, we could see it on top of the aforementioned bush.

We got out of the minibus and got the scopes on it, noting the Rough-legged Buzzard‘s very pale head contrasting with a dark blackish-brown belly patch. Several Marsh Harriers were circling up beyond the bank and another Red Kite further back, more to add to the day’s raptor tally. There were lots of gulls on the flooded field in front of the layby, along with a few Redshanks, and a Linnet or two on the near edge.

We walked down the track where we could get a better view of the Rough-legged Buzzard, side on and not so obscured by branches, although we still couldn’t see its rough legs. A Common Buzzard drifted over the track behind us, a much darker bird altogether.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – back on its usual bush

Continuing on over the bank, we stopped to scan the marshes. There was a nice selection of waders out on the flooded grazing marsh beyond, several Ruff flying round with a flock of Dunlin, a single Curlew, lots of Lapwings and a few more Redshanks.

A large flock of Brent Geese kept flying in and out of the old pitch and putt over towards the harbour wall, coming over our heads chattering noisily. Looking through the Greylags out on the grass, we found a single Pink-footed Goose hunkered down behind a line of reeds. Another little group of Pinkfeet flew up calling further back. There was a nice selection of ducks here too, including Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler.

A pre-roost gathering of Pied Wagtails was down in the wet grass in front of the water, along with a single Meadow Pipit. A bigger flock of Meadow Pipits flew in along the bank. Four Brown Hares in the ploughed field the other side of the track chased each other round at one point and even engaged in a brief bout of boxing (it is March, after all!).

It was a nice place to finish the day, scanning the marshes here, but it was time to head back now. We would be spending the day tomorrow along the coast here too, with lots more to see yet.

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

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

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

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

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

Lesser Redpoll

Lesser Redpoll – this male was feeding with Goldfinches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goshawk 1

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

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

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

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

Mandarin

Mandarin Ducks – we counted fourteen on the lake and lawn

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

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

Hawfinch 1

Hawfinch – there were several feeding under one of the trees

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

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

Hawfinch 2

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

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

Marsh Tit

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

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

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual tree

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

Brambling

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

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

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

Goosander

Goosander – one of three on the pits this afternoon

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

7th July 2019 – Summer Birds & Wildlife, Day 3

Day 3 of a long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. It was forecast to cloud over with the chance of a shower from late morning, so we thought we should make the most of the early brightness. But it remained stubbornly warm and mostly sunny with no sign of the forecast thicker cloud all day. We spent the day down in the Brecks.

In order to try to avoid the heat haze which can be a problem there later in the day, we called at Weeting first. We headed straight out to West Hide, where we quickly got onto a Stone Curlew standing in the wild flowers in the middle of the cultivated area. It was not too far from the hide. We got it in the scope, and although there was already a bit of heat haze it was a good view. Then it sat down in the flowers and merged into the vegetation.

Stone Curlew 1

Stone Curlew – preening in the flowers this morning

There was also a normal, Eurasian Curlew out in the grass, walking around feeding, given away by its long down-curved bill. Stone Curlew and Eurasian Curlew are not closely related, but both named after their call, the former actually belonging to a family called Thick-knees (but Eurasian Thick-knee doesn’t have the same ring to it). We could see several Lapwings too, and a distant Green Woodpecker – or more precisely its head popping up out of the tall grass from time to time.

There are sometimes a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees behind the hide, so we went out to see if we could find them. There was a fresh breeze blowing through though, and no sign of them this morning. Another Green Woodpecker was calling, and a Goldcrest was singing high in the pines, where we also found a Chiffchaff feeding.

We walked all the way down to the feeders at the end of the pines. A selection of tits and Goldfinches were coming and going initially, but there was no sign of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers we had seen on the live video feed at the Visitor Centre as we arrived earlier. A smart male Greenfinch dropped in and a Nuthatch made several visits to the peanuts.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in to the peanuts at the feeders

Back past the Visitor Centre, we walked on to East Hide. There are usually some Stone Curlews here too, but we couldn’t see them at first, just a pair of Eurasian Curlews. But scanning very carefully with the scope, we found a shape hidden in the grass – a Stone Curlew on the nest.

Just as we were all trying to get onto it, one of the group spotted a second Stone Curlew walking in from the longer grass off to the right. We had a much better view of this one as it came out into the open, closer to the hide. It walked quickly, but kept stopping, looking round. It made its way over to where the other Stone Curlew was sitting in the grass and stood nearby, looking round. Then the bird on the nest stood up and they changed over.

Stone Curlew 2

Stone Curlew – one of the pair from East Hide

We planned to spend the rest of the morning at Lakenheath Fen, so we drove over there next. As we walked out onto the reserve, several Reed Warblers were flitting around in the reeds by the path, and a Common Whitethroat was singing and song flighting. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over, and disappeared into the poplars.

There were already lots of dragonflies here – several Brown Hawkers hawking for insects, and lots of Ruddy Darters perched in the vegetation alongside the path. We could see plenty of blue damselflies too, mostly Azure Damselflies but looking carefully we found a couple of the rarer Variable Damselflies in with them. We saw a one or two Blue-tailed Damselflies here as well.

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – in with the other blue damselflies by the path

There were good number of butterflies out in the sunshine too – lots of Red Admirals, several Commas, both Large and Small Whites, Meadow Browns. A Large Skipper was resting on the vegetation as we passed.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – resting on the vegetation

We stopped at the viewpoint overlooking New Fen. It was nice gazing out over the reedbed, but it looked pretty quiet  bird-wise – a few ducks, several Coot, and a Moorhen with small juveniles on the edge of the reeds. A Great Crested Grebe was sitting on a nest platform. A distant Marsh Harrier was quartering over the other side of the river.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – sitting on its nest platform

After a short rest here, we carried on to Mere Hide. There were lots more dragonflies buzzing round over the water in front of the hide, mostly Four-Spotted Chasers. Two Emperor Dragonflies were ovipositing and a Red-eyed Damselfly landed on the blanket weed.

There were not many birds here either. Several Coot and another Great Crested Grebe, this one with a well-grown stripy-headed juvenile at the back of the channel to the side of the hide. We heard a Kingfisher call but unfortunately didn’t see it as it presumably shot past over the reeds somewhere off to the left of us.

Continuing on to Joist Fen, we flushed a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers ahead of us along the path. Sitting on the benches at the viewpoint, looking out over the reedbed, a Cormorant was on its usual post. One or two Marsh Harriers circled up from time to time, the male first. Then the female came in from over the river, carrying food, and was met by a dark chocolate brown juvenile which came up out of the reeds. The female dropped the food for the youngster.

A Hobby was hawking for insects out over the pools in the reeds, distantly at first. At one point it climbed higher and was mobbed by two Common Terns. Later on, the Hobby drifted closer to the viewpoint and we got a much better look at it. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the bushes beside the viewpoint, and a Bearded Tit zipped over the reeds just in front of us, but dropped down out of view. After a while, another juvenile Bearded Tit did perch up on the edge of the reeds further back.

We were hoping to see a Bittern here, but there was surprisingly little activity today. We had one very brief flight view, but not everyone saw it as it disappeared behind some bushes and then dropped straight back into the reeds. We waited a while and we were just about to leave when another Bittern flew in over the reeds. It was coming straight towards us and we thought it might fly over the viewpoint but it quickly dropped down into the reeds again, not far from the edge of the channel.

Bittern

Bittern – flew in and dropped into the reeds by the channel

We scanned along the reeds beside the channel, thinking the Bittern might come out onto the edge, but couldn’t see it. Again, we were just about to leave when it flew out again. Initially it was going away from us over the channel, but then it turned and flew across over the reeds. A good view – well worth the wait.

On the walk back, it was warm now in the sunshine. A Common Tern was hawking over the pools by West Wood. We had a quick stop at New Fen to break the journey, then carried on back to the Visitor Centre for a rather late lunch. We were just about to eat when someone came in to tell us about an impressive caterpillar they had just found on the path in front of the visitor centre. We had a look at it – it was a Puss Moth caterpillar, normally green but this one was dark pinkish, just about to pupate.

Puss Moth caterpillar

Puss Moth caterpillar – found on the path by the Visitor Centre

There was a steady succession of Reed Buntings, finches and tits coming in to the feeders by the Visitor Centre. There had been a Great Spotted Woodpecker earlier, but there was no sign while we were there – it was a bit of a recurring theme with Great Spotted Woodpeckers on feeders today!

After we had finally managed to eat our lunch, we drove back into the Forest. We stopped at the head of a ride, and were surprised to find a big group of people having a barbecue in the small parking area. Presumably quite a fire risk! We wanted to have a quick look for Woodlark here, but thought maybe it would be too disturbed. As we walked down the track, it was all quiet. It was the heat of mid-afternoon, so perhaps unsurprisingly birds might be hard to find now.

Then a Woodlark flew up from the bushes by the track. We could see its short tail and broad round wings. It circled round behind us calling and dropped down by the track again back the way we had just come. We decided to walk back to try to see it, but before we could get there it flew again, and disappeared off into the trees. Still, it was good to see one, even if just in flight. A pair of Stonechats were perched calling in the all bracken beside the track. They had one or two streaky juveniles with them.

Stonechat

Stonechat – a family were in the bracken by the path

A small skipper feeding on the Vipers Bugloss on the side of the track stayed still long enough for us to get a closer look, revealing the black underside to the tips of its antennae. An Essex Skipper, a new one for the butterfly list for the day.

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper – showing of the black tips to the underside of its antennae

We called in at Lynford Arboretum briefly as we were making our way past. It was quiet here too, but we had a quick walk round through the trees. We heard a few Siskin flying over and saw one which landed in the top of a holly tree by the cottages. We decided not to linger here too long, as we had one last stop we wanted to make this afternoon.

We drove on to another area of Forest and parked by a large clearing. As we got out of the minibus we could hear a Yellowhammer singing, but otherwise it seemed quiet here too initially. As we walked down the track into the clearing, we looked across to see a bird on the wires over the other side. It was a Tree Pipit, just what we had come here to try to see.

We had a look at the Tree Pipit through the scope from where we were standing and we were just about to walk over for a closer view when it flew. It landed in the top of a tall tree closer to us, but again it didn’t stop long. When it took off again it flew past us and landed in an oak right next to the path. We were looking into the sun, so we tried to walk round, but it dropped out and disappeared by the time we got to the other side of the tree.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – we had nice views of one at our last stop today

While we stood and scanned the trees, one of the group walked a short distance further down the track to look for butterflies and two Woodlarks flew up from the grass. The first flew round behind the oak and we lost sight of it, but the second landed in the top of the tree. We stood underneath looking up at it, as it looked down at us. It had a bill full of insects, and obviously had young to feed somewhere nearby.

The Tree Pipit reappeared in the top of a tree nearby, and we got a much better look at it in the scope now. Then the Woodlark flew down and across to the same tree, landing on a branch halfway down. Now we were not looking straight up from below it, we got a much better view of it too.

Woodlark

Woodlark – gathering food in the clearing

It had been a very successful last stop, with great views of both Tree Pipit and Woodlark. A nice way to wrap up the trip, it was time to head back.

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.

26th Mar 2019 – Gentle Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. It was a lovely bright, sunny start to the day, although it clouded over late morning, a few hours earlier than forecast. With some restrictions on our mobility we would have a slightly different itinerary today, but we would still be aiming to see as many of the key Brecks species as possible.

To start the day, we headed into the Forest and took a short walk along a ride to look for Woodlarks. As we made our way down the track and out into the clearing, there were lots of finches flying back and forth overhead, up to feed in the pines and down towards the river to drink, Bramblings, Chaffinches and Siskin. One or two of the Bramblings were singing – not much of a song, more of a wheeze! They weren’t sitting still, but we eventually got one of the males in the scope long enough to get a proper look at it.

While we were looking at the finches, two larger birds flew in past us, their distinctive broad wings and short tails identifying them as a pair of Woodlarks. They dropped down to the ground by the track back the way we had just come, and we walked back a short way to get a closer look at them. We could only see one now, presumably the male, perched on a clod of earth, preening. We could see its short crest, rusty cheeks and prominent supercilium, the two sides meeting in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – one of a pair which flew in and landed in the clearing

The Woodlark started to pick around in the bare earth and the walked further off into the grass beyond. Then it flew up into a small oak tree at the back of the clearing, where it perched silently and we got some more great views of it through the scope. There was no sign of the second bird now.

We heard a woodpecker drumming from somewhere beyond the clearing and listening carefully the sustained rapid bursts told us it was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We shifted our position to try to triangulate the sound and it seemed to be coming from somewhere over by the road. We couldn’t get easily round there on foot, so we decided to walk back to the van and drive down. Unfortunately, despite it having been drumming on and off for several minutes when we were in the clearing, it had gone quiet by the time we got to where we thought it might have been. Another Brambling was feeding on the buds of a willow by the road.

Brambling

Brambling – another male, feeding in a willow by the road

There has been a Rough-legged Buzzard at Weeting Heath for the last few weeks, so we headed over there next to see if we could catch up with it, and the Stone Curlews. We stopped first at the field entrance just before the reserve to look for the buzzard – it has been favouring the trees beyond here. There was already somebody here looking and we were told it had just flown round to the back of one of the trees, and landed out of view.

There was a nice male Wheatear out on the short grass in the field away to the left though – a bit distant, but a nice spring migrant to catch up with here. A Blackcap was singing in the trees behind us too, another returning migrant and always nice to hear. With Skylarks singing too, it almost felt like spring! Two (Eurasian) Curlews were feeding in the winter wheat field out in front of the gate.

It was starting to warm up a bit now and we could see several Common Buzzards circling up above the trees. While we scanned the sky for raptors, just in case the Rough-legged Buzzard might have taken off while no one was looking, we noticed a different bird of prey rising into the sky. It was a Goshawk, a juvenile, and it started to display, flapping with deep, exaggerated wingbeats.

Another Goshawk circled up just below it, this time an adult, silvery grey above and almost white below, and it gave a few deep, slow wing flaps too.  Presumably this was designed to see off the youngster, as the two birds then drifted off in different directions. Goshawk was one of our target birds for the day, but not one we had expected to get here, so this was another bonus! It didn’t look like the Rough-legged Buzzard was going to reappear in a hurry, so we decided to go and try our luck with Stone Curlews and have another look for it later.

When we got to the Visitor Centre, we were told that the Stone Curlews were not showing from the hide today, but there were two in the field across the road. Looking across from the path just beyond West Hide, we were quickly put on to one of them. It was sat down in the grass, which made it hard to see, not helped by the heat haze which was already starting to develop – a perennial problem here, despite it being early in the morning on a cool March day!

Scanning the grass, we eventually managed to find the second Stone Curlew. It was much easier to see as it was standing up and it ran over towards the first in a series of bursts. Its yellow legs really stood out in the spring sunshine! We then realised we could see the Rough-legged Buzzard from here too, perched on the back of the tree where it had disappeared to earlier. It was rather distant, but through the scope we could see its pale head and contrasting black belly patch.

We had a quick look from West Hide, just in case. There was a Lapwing and a single Curlew out in the long grass, but as we had been informed, no sign of any Stone Curlews from here today. So we headed back to the Visitor Centre for a coffee break.

While the group was having coffee, a quick look across the road revealed that the Rough-legged Buzzard had flown across and landed in the top of one of the pines opposite the reserve. Unfortunately, before we could all get back across to the gate it had flown again, back towards the trees where it had been earlier. We decided to drive down to the field entrance, as it was on our way, and see if it was on view and we hadn’t gone more than a few metres before we saw it perched on the corner of the pines.

From the gate, we had a great view of the Rough-legged Buzzard. It was perched back onto us at first, so we could see its white tail with a wide black bar towards the tip. Then it flapped and gave us a good flash of its wings and tail, before settling round the other way, face onto us. Well worth the extra stop for the much better views.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – showed very well as we were leaving

It clouded over now and the morning sunshine disappeared. We had planned to go looking for Goshawks next, thinking it would stay sunny until early afternoon at least, but it didn’t look so good for them now. At least we had already seen a couple of Goshawks this morning. Still, we drove over to a convenient spot overlooking the forest and stopped to scan over the trees.

There were a few Common Buzzards circling up and it didn’t take us long to find our first hawk. Unfortunately it was the wrong one – a Sparrowhawk. We could see it was small and rather dark, and when it started to flap it did so in rapid bursts. A short while later, another Sparrowhawk circled up the over on the other side.

It felt quite cool now, with a fresh NW wind, and we wondered whether we might have missed the main Goshawk activity in the sunshine earlier. Eventually a Goshawk appeared, circling away to our left. We got it in the scope and had a look at it before it drifted off over the trees and disappeared. We started to wonder whether that might be the lot.

There were other birds to see here though. A flock of Fieldfares flew in and landed in the trees behind us, tchacking. Then a pair of Mistle Thrushes flew out and across the field. There were Lapwings displaying and lots of Meadow Pipits down in the rough grass. We could hear one or two Skylarks singing and then a Woodlark started up away behind us too.

Finally another Goshawk came up over the trees in front of us. As it was turning in regular circles, we could get it in the scope and get a really good look at it – an adult, with pale grey upperparts and whitish below. We could see its broad, rounded tail. It gradually gained height, going higher and higher into the clouds. At one point, we had the Goshawk circling in the same view as a Red Kite, a couple of Buzzards and a Kestrel!

Goshawk

Goshawk – finally one circled up in front of us

It didn’t look like it was going to do anything, but then the Goshawk did a quick burst of slow-flapping display and then swooped sharply down, before turning back up almost vertically and stalling at the top. Even one rollercoaster display was welcome, but after circling again for a minute or so, the Goshawk suddenly launched into a series of swoops. On the last one, it folded its wings and plunged straight back down into the trees. Great to watch!

That seemed a good signal to move on. We drove round to a couple of clearings to see if we could find any more Woodlarks singing next. On our way, we saw several Brown Hares in the fields. At the first clearing, we just listened from the van and all was quiet. But at the second clearing, as we drove up we could hear a Woodlark calling. We parked and got out and could see one perched in the top of a small oak tree by the path through the middle. We decided to have a short walk down the path for a closer look.

Woodlark 2

Woodlark – one of a pair in a small oak tree

A second Woodlark flew up into the tree too, then dropped down to the long grass in the clearing below. From down along the path, we had a great view of the first, perched on a branch preening. It looked like it might sing at one point, fluttering out from the tree and round in front of us, but decided to land again. A Yellowhammer flew up into the top of the tree above. When the second Woodlark came up out of the clearing again, the pair flew off out into the middle together. We could still see them walking about in the grass between the rows of young trees.

The day was getting on now. We decided to drive back to Lynford Arboretum and make use of the picnic tables for a late lunch. As we stopped in the car park and got out, we could hear a Firecrest singing. We walked over to the trees and could see it high in the bare branches of a beech, but unfortunately it dropped back into the firs behind before everyone could get over to see it.

We could still hear it singing and thankfully the Firecrest then decided to fly back out into the open again. It perched in some bare branches in front of us singing and we could see its body shaking with the effort. We had a great look at it, before it flew back into the firs again. This was one of the other main targets for the day, so another mission accomplished. Then it was definitely time for lunch!

Firecrest

Firecrest – came out to sing in the bare trees by the car park

There were a few other birds in the trees above the picnic tables while we ate – one or two Goldcrests, several Coal Tits and a Siskin feeding on the opening pine cones. After lunch, we set off to explore the Arboretum. We still wanted to try to see Hawfinch and Crossbill this afternoon.

Stopping first at the gate, there were still a few Bramblings feeding down on the ground in the leaves under the trees. One smart male was really starting to get a black head now. It won’t be long before they are on their way back to Scandinavia for the breeding season. A couple of Yellowhammers flew down to feed on the seed too.

Most of the feeders on the trees were empty, but one or two still had food in and a succession of tits came in to look for something to eat. Then somebody noticed a Treecreeper on one of the feeders and we watched as it picked away at the compacted food in the bottom behind the mesh. Not something you see very often!

Treecreeper

Treecreeper – came in to feed at one of the feeders

Continuing on, there were more Yellowhammers feeding at the hopper out in the orchard, which contains the food for the ducks and chickens. As we walked down past the meadow, we looked up at the pines at the back and noticed a bulky looking bird perched in the top of one. Through the scope, we could see it was a male Common Crossbill.

It took off and flew in towards us, ‘glipping’ loudly, and we could hear a second Crossbill answering from the trees on the edge of the Arboretum. When the first bird landed in the top of one of the trees, we could see there was a pair in the branches together. We were looking into the light from here, but we could see the distinctive crossed mandibles through the scope, before they flew off. Further back, on the edge of the Hall grounds, we could see lots of Fieldfares and Redwings in the tops of some more trees.

At the bottom of the hill, we stopped to look in the firs to see if the Tawny Owl was in its regular roosting spot. It was, but you had to be in just the right spot to see it, high up close to the trunk, half hidden in the branches.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in its usual spot, high in a fir tree

As we walked up over the bridge, we could see more Redwings and Fieldfares flying up into the tops of the poplars just beyond. A quick glance up and we noticed a slightly smaller bird in with them – a Hawfinch! We got it in the scope, but unfortunately it flew before everyone had a chance to look at it. We watched it drop down with the Redwings and disappear into the leafiest of the hornbeams in the paddocks.

We hurried on to the gap in the hedge overlooking the trees. We couldn’t see it at first, although we could hear it calling. Then another Hawfinch appeared in one of the other bare trees, again in amongst all the thrushes. Again, it was very flighty and dropped down before we could get the scope on it. Finally then one of the Hawfinches appeared in the bare branches of the same tree and this time stayed still a bit longer. Now, we could all get a good look at it, its thick neck and huge, cherry stone-cracking bill. It was calling and we could see its bill moving.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – finally one stayed still long enough for us all to get a good look at it

That Hawfinch then flew over and disappeared into the leafier tree too. At which point, a couple of people who had started to walk back towards the bridge called to us to say there were some Crossbills in the top of the poplars there. We walked back so we could see the tops of the trees and got the Crossbills in the scope. There were at least six of them, and they appeared to be mostly females but at least one redder male was with them.

When they started to drop down through the branches, we figured the Crossbills would be coming down to drink so we walked back and took the path into the trees. We could hear several of the Crossbills flying off from the tops of the trees as we arrived, but then we spotted two fly up ahead of us. They had probably been down to drink already and we had missed it, but thankfully they landed not too high in the trees where we could get them in the scope.

Common Crossbill

Common Crossbill – we watched a pair preening in the trees

We stood and watched the Crossbills for a while. They flew over to a branch on the other side of the path, where they weren’t against the light and we could get a really good look at them. We watched them climbing about picking at the bark and then the two of them perched together preening for several minutes.

Eventually, the Crossbills disappeared into the branches and we walked back to the bridge. There was lots of activity here now, with a steady stream of birds coming down to the selection of food which had put out around the pillars and balustrades. A male Reed Bunting was feeding on the top of one of the pillars and the variety of tits included regular visits from at least one Marsh Tit. The Nuthatches were making the most of the peanuts put out today, coming in and out repeatedly, grabbing a nut each time and presumably stashing it somewhere in the trees to eat later.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – carrying off the peanuts to stash in the trees

As we stood on the bridge and looked down into the rushes below, we could just see a Water Rail moving around in the vegetation. It seemed to know we were watching and initially kept itself fairly well hidden. We knew where it was because we could see the rushes moving. Finally it got a bit bolder and showed itself a bit better, walking through some of the more open patches.

It was a nice way to end the day, watching the comings and goings at the bridge, but we were tired now after the exertions of the day and it was time to make our way slowly back up the hill. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, with all our target species seen and seen well, and a lot more besides!

23rd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Coast, Day 1

Day 1 of a weekend of Brecks & Coast Tours. Today we would be heading down to the Brecks for the day. It had been forecast to be cloudy and grey, but it was actually bright with some sunny intervals and light winds. Great early spring weather to be out.

After an earlier than normal start, we made our way down to Thetford Forest. As we set off down a ride through the trees, we could see some people already ahead of us. We were hoping to find some Woodlarks here but the clearing either side of the track further on looked quite quiet at first. Perhaps there was too much disturbance here today?

There were lots of finches flying in and out of the pines though – mostly Chaffinches, Bramblings and Siskins. We got the scope on a Brambling perched in some birches on the edge of the clearing, but it flew off before everyone could get a look at it. A Lesser Redpoll then flew over and dropped in too, but it was similarly brief.

Two birds flew up from the long grass on one side of the track some way ahead of us – a pair of Woodlarks. They circled round and dropped down again, with one landing in a small bush by the path, where we could get it in the scope. We decided to walk a bit further down to get a closer view but we didn’t get far before we heard two cyclists approaching quickly along the track behind us. They seemed to get past the Woodlarks without flushing them and we thought we might be in luck, but then they flew. As they fluttered up we could see their short tails and broad rounded wings, before they disappeared off over the trees.

Cutting across to the riverbank, we walked down past the poplars. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers chased each other through the tops and the male landed on the trunk of one of the trees. A good start, but not the woodpecker we were hoping to see here!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker – a pair flew in through the trees as we walked up

As we got around the corner, we could see a small group of people standing on the path looking up into the trees. We hurried up to them and they confirmed that they were watching the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, three of them together! They were displaying and we watched them chasing each other through the branches. Each time they landed, we got them in the scope, but they weren’t staying still for long.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers disappeared back into the birches behind, then after a minute or so chased each other back out into the tops of the poplars. Two seemed to be in the lead, with the third woodpecker following behind. They gradually made their way further down through the trees and we managed to follow them for a while. Then they flew off further and we lost sight of them in some thicker trees further downstream.

We walked down to where we had seen the woodpeckers disappear, but there was no sign of them here. If they kept going as they had been they could be anywhere by now! There were a few more birds here. We found a Nuthatch excavating a hole in a tree and could see its head poke out from time to time to throw out the wood shavings. A Treecreeper made its way up the trunk of another tree. We noticed some movement on the vegetation trapped around a fallen tree across the river behind us and turned to see a Grey Wagtail feeding quietly.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – feeding by a fallen tree across the river

Someone coming back from further downstream told us the otters had been along the river much further down, so we thought we would go to try to see them. There were Chiffchaffs singing in the trees and we stopped to admire a Stock Dove whooping on top of a dead trunk. A Common Buzzard circled up over the trees beyond.

Another couple of photographers coming back along the path told us the otters were heading back our way so we stopped and waited but there was no sign of them. We had a quick look up and down the river, but presumably the otters had come out of the water and disappeared. We did find a Kingfisher which zipped off across the river as we approached.

As we made our way back, we looked and listened for the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers but there was no further sign of them now. A Water Rail squealed from the far bank of the river and then flew across to our side, disappearing behind some trees. As we walked on, we found it on the other side of the path but it flew off into the reeds.

As we made our way back round by the reedbed, we stopped to admire the finches in the trees where they were coming down to drink from the pines. Finally we had better views of a smart male Brambling which perched up more obligingly. There were Bramblings singing here too – more of a wheeze than a song, but always interesting to hear. It won’t be long now before they are back off to Scandinavia for the breeding season.

It was sunny and warming up nicely now, so we made our way over to a place overlooking the forest. We hadn’t been out of the van long before we picked up two Goshawks circling up away to the east. They were both adults and both males. They soared higher and higher into the sky and we lost sight on one as the other drifted towards us. We could see their very white underparts and broad-based tails.

Goshawk

Goshawk – circled up high above us

We had lost sight of them when a female Goshawk came up out of the trees close to where we had first seen the earlier ones. As it circled over the pines, we could see it was a big and powerful bird, with very pale grey upperparts. With the warm air, it gained height very quickly. Then we spotted a second Goshawk nearby, high in the blue sky. It was noticeably smaller, a male, possibly one of the two we had seen earlier. The female started to display, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. Then presumably having warned off the male, she dropped back down towards the trees.

We were treated to great views of the Goshawks in the 45 minutes or so we spent here. There were lots of Common Buzzards up enjoying the thermals too, and a Kestrel. When a female Sparrowhawk came up out of the trees as well, we could see it looked smaller and darker grey. As it started flapping, we could see its very fast bursts of wingbeats.

There were a few Brown Hares in the fields here and one or two Lapwing and Red-legged Partridges. A Woodlark fluttered across at the back and disappeared over the trees beyond.

It was time for lunch now, so we headed over to Lynford Arboretum and made use of the picnic tables in the parking area. Afterwards, as we made our way over to the road, we heard a Firecrest singing from somewhere high in the fir trees. We stopped to listen for it, but unfortunately it had gone quiet.

Down at the gate, there was not much seed left on the ground and the feeders were looking rather empty too. There were still a few Bramblings and Chaffinches coming down to the leaves beyond the small pool and a Yellowhammer dropped down with them too.

Continuing on down towards the bridge, a large flock of Fieldfares flew over tchacking noisily. We looked up into the fir trees to see the Tawny Owl back hiding in its usual roost spot. It is very hard to see unless you are in just the right spot and the view is generally looking up from underneath it, so you often can’t see its head until it looks down.

Tawny Owl

Tawny Owl – roosting in the top of one of the fir trees again

There were a few tits coming in to the seed put out on the pillars of the bridge, so we stopped to see what else we could see. A male Reed Bunting duly appeared. While we were scanning the trees, we noticed some movement deeper in and focusing on it with binoculars we could see a couple of Common Crossbills dropping down through the branches. We thought they might be about to come down to drink under the trees, so we hurried in along the path.

The Crossbills were still perched in the trees but seemed to be in no hurry to drink. At first they were just perched in different trees, but one by one they moved into an alder above the path where we watched them climbing about in the branches and picking at the flowers. By the end, they were right above our heads and we had a really good view of them through the scope. A Marsh Tit was flitting around in the bushes by the path too.

Common Crossbill 1

Crossbill – eventually came down to drink

Then suddenly two of the Crossbills flew over our heads and down into some small trees just above the stream channel by the path. We positioned ourselves and had a great view of them as they came down to drink on the far bank – first a green female and then a rather orangey male. With a diet primarily of resinous pine seeds they need to drink regularly.

The Crossbills all flew back up into the trees towards the bridge, so we made our way back out. It was the turn of the Siskins now. A pair dropped out of the alders above the bridge and down to the reeds in the corner of the lake to drink. We had a great view of the bright yellow-green male when it flew back up into the trees.

Siskin

Siskin – a pair came down to drink by the bridge

Having had great success at the bridge, we decided to walk up to the paddocks to see if we could find a Hawfinch. It was very quiet here in the trees though today – it seems likely that food is now getting in short supply here. It was still a bit too early for them to come in for a pre-roost gathering, so we decided to walk round via the lake.

A Little Grebe laughed at us maniacally from the reeds and another was diving under the overhanging trees on the edge of the island. We stopped to admire a pair of Gadwall on the lake, the drake looking particularly smart with its variety of different feather patterns. Not just a boring grey duck! There were a few Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese on the grass in front of the hall.

Gadwall

Gadwall – not just a boring grey duck!

We walked round the far side of the paddocks, scanning the ground under the trees in the middle to see if we could see anything down in the grass. We found a pair of Goldcrests in the firs on the far side and a Redwing perched high in the poplars in the distance. We figured we could make our way back to the bridge and continue to scan the paddocks in case a Hawfinch should appear.

Back at the bridge, the Water Rail had now appeared. It was hiding in the reeds at first, but eventually came out a bit more into the open where we could get a good look at it.

Water Rail

Water Rail – showing well when we got back to the bridge

When we heard the ‘glip, glip’ calls of Crossbills, we looked up to see three brighter red males land in the trees above the pool. They made their way gradually down through the branches, before dropping down to the edge of the water to drink. Once again, we were well-placed for a ringside seat!

When they flew back up into the trees, one of the male Crossbills then spent a couple of minutes picking at the bare wood where a large bough had recently broken off one of the alders. Then it perched up in the sunshine on a branch just above.

Common Crossbill 2

Common Crossbill – another three males came down to drink later

There was still no sign of the Hawfinches in the paddocks and we still had something else we hoped to do before the end of the day, so we decided to head off. A quick walk round back to the van and we drove over to Weeting Heath.

There had been no sign of the Rough-legged Buzzard for over an hour when we arrived, so we went into the visitor centre. While most of the group were queuing for the facilities, two of us walked back out to the car park. Just in time to see the back end of the Rough-legged Buzzard disappearing into the trees on the edge of the field opposite. There was no further sign of it by the time everyone had come back out again. A (Eurasian) Curlew was feeding in the winter wheat field over to one side.

We decided to go down to West Hide to look for the Stone Curlews. There have been three back already in the last week, and two were helpfully standing in the cultivated area towards the front. They were settled down, back onto us at first, but after a few minutes one of the Stone Curlews woke and stood up, turning round so we could get a good look at its pale iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – great views from the hide today

Being later in the afternoon now, and early in the year, there was next to no heat haze which can often be a problem at this site. So we could get a very good look at the Stone Curlews today. Having all had a really good look at them for a while, we decided to make our way back out.

There were a several people out on the verge now, but rather than looking out over the field opposite they were looking up the road. Apparently, the Rough-legged Buzzard had just been seen in a tree from the field entrance further along and someone had helpfully come over to tell everyone. We decided to walk up the road and sure enough, there was the Rough-legged Buzzard perched in a pine tree on the corner of the wood at the back of the field.

The Rough-legged Buzzard flew back round behind the trees, so we continued on to the field entrance, Shortly after we got there, the Rough-legged Buzzard flew out again and landed in another tree further beyond. We had a great view of its white tail with black terminal band as it flew back. Then it did another fly round and landed back in the pine tree closer to us, where we had seen it first. Now we could see its very pale head and contrasting blackish belly patch.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – showed well when we got back out to the road

A flock of Linnets was whirling round the edge of the field beyond the gate and two Curlews flew up calling. Eventually the Rough-legged Buzzard dropped out of the pine and disappeared back round behind the trees again. It had been a great way to end our first day out, down in the Brecks, and it was time to head for home now.