11th March 2022 – Winter, Brecks & Goshawks, Day 1

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Day 1 of a three day tour in the Brecks and North Norfolk today. It was a lovely bright sunny morning, clouding over and with the wind picking up through the afternoon, but the rain held off until just as we finished and we were walking back to minibus.

After the drive down to the Brecks, we started the day at Santon Downham. As we arrived in the car park, a couple of local birders were leaving and told us that the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers had been very elusive this morning. A Nuthatch was piping from the trees as we made our way down to the bridge.

Down along the river bank, there were lots of Siskins flying back and forth and a couple in the sallows by the path. A Lesser Redpoll flew over calling too. Down at the big bend, a succession of small groups of Redwings flew across the river ahead of us, out of the alders on the Suffolk side and disappeared into the trees behind the poplars. As we got level with where they had crossed, we could hear lots chattering in the trees. There were several butterflies in the sunshine – a couple of Small Tortoiseshell fluttering around the willows, a Red Admiral trying to bask by the path.

We could hear a single Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming deeper in the trees, but it was surprisingly quiet today, given the nice weather. A couple of people we met on the river bank had been waiting since dawn and had either not seen or had only had a fleeting glimpse of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. It seemed like they had been unusually elusive here today.

We continued on down to the far end. A Chiffchaff was singing some way in beyond the poplars. A Grey Wagtail flew past calling along the river behind us. A few Bramblings and Chaffinches flew high through the tops of the trees. Strangely, we hadn’t seen any Mandarin along here today, but we did hear one calling from deep in the trees now. Unfortunately it didn’t show itself.

It didn’t seem like the woodpeckers would perform today and we were just starting to walk back, when we heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker call from the trees behind us, on the other side of the river. We were looking into the sun, and the sound had come from quite a way back, so it was not a surprise that we couldn’t see it. But we stopped to see if it might fly out.

Then all the pigeons went up from the trees in the distance in front of us. It could only mean one thing and after scanning for a couple of seconds we picked up a Goshawk circling up. It was an adult male, silvery grey above and very white below as it circled and caught the sun, before it drifted west and we lost it behind the trees.

Immediately after we lost sight of the first, a second Goshawk appeared, this time a juvenile female, low over the trees in front of us mobbed by a crow. It was much closer to us and we had a great look at it before it too disappeared off behind the tree tops.

Goshawk – a juvenile

There was no further sign of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, so we walked back, cutting across to the railway line, where a Yellowhammer was singing. Several Lesser Redpoll flew back and forth overhead and two perched perched nicely in the bushes at one point. There was no sign of any Woodlarks here today, and we hadn’t even heard them on the walk out earlier, so we decided to try somewhere else. A Treecreeper was working its way up the trunks of the trees in the car park.

We tried another place for Woodlarks. It was quiet at first, as we walked in, but we kept scanning the short grass and eventually found two Woodlarks feeding quietly at the back. We had some great views in the scopes, we could see their well marked supercilia meeting in a shallow ‘v’ on the nape and the males richer chestnut ear covers.

Woodlark – feeding on the short grass

As we made our way up towards the church, a Marsh Tit flicked ahead of us through the trees. A Nuthatch was calling from the poplars over the road and we looked up to see it working its way along the underside of a bough. There were several Goldcrests high in the fir trees and then suddenly a Firecrest appeared too. It flicked around in an ivy-covered tree above us briefly and then disappeared. We could hear it singing from somewhere in the trees now but it was quite windy now, and we couldn’t find it again.

We drove round to Brandon for lunch. Before we ate, we had a very quick look down at the lake and found nine Mandarin still here, including six smart drakes. They seem to be undecided as to whether to be out along the river getting ready to nest or staying on here at the moment.

Mandarin – a smart drake

After lunch, we drove back north up to Lynford Arboretum. It was forecast to rain most of the afternoon, but it was holding off so we thought we would try to pack as much in as we could before the weather deteriorated. We walked in and up to the gate, where there wasn’t much seed left now on the ground. There were not as many numbers here as a consequence, but there was still a succession of birds coming down to bathe and some picking around in the leaves.

We stopped to watch, as several smart Yellowhammers dropped down. There were still a few Brambling with the Chaffinches and we had excellent views of them again here. Siskins were coming down to bathe and both Coal Tit and Marsh Tit darted in briefly to grab something from the ground. There had apparently been a Hawfinch again here earlier but there was no sign now.

Yellowhammer – from the gate

On our way on down to the paddocks, lots of Redwings flew up in to the trees, presumably spooked from the paddocks. There was not much food left out at the bridge either, but another very smart male Brambling was on one of the pillars.

We quickly found our first Hawfinch, a female hiding deep in the first hornbeam. We had a good view through the scope before it dropped down through the branches. As we scanned for it we found a second Hawfinch lower down, a male this time on the front edge of the tree, a much better view and in very good light. We admired its richer chestnut colours.

Hawfinch – a male in the hornbeam

When it then dropped down to the ground, we realised there were more Hawfinches already feeding down there now. They were hard to see at times, as they were hidden in a dip in the ground, but we counted at least five. We had some really nice views of both males and females now when they came out more into the open.

Further on, we could see lots of finches coming down onto the path from the pines and dropping into the ditch. With the recent warm weather, the pine cones are opening now and we could even see the seed spiralling out of the trees in the wind and down onto the ground. A real bonanza of free food. We walked up and could see loads of Chaffinches in the near edge of the paddocks too, with a few Bramblings, Goldfinches and Siskins in with them.

Redwing – loads in the paddocks

There were huge numbers of Redwings down in the paddocks too, feeding on the grass and occasionally spooking and flying up and down from the trees. There were several Mistle Thrush out here as well, and a couple of Song Thrush. A pair of Hawfinches were feeding right out in the open on the ground here now too.

Hawfinch – a female on the grass

As we continued on a little further, we could see more birds feeding in the churned up earth down towards the far end of the paddocks, close to where the Highland Cattle were feeding. As well as more finches, we found Grey Wagtail and Pied Wagtail and a Reed Bunting here now.

There were several Goldcrests in the hedge now where we had seen the Firecrest earlier in the week. A pair of Marsh Tits were feeding in the trees above the ditch a bit further up, and a pair of Treecreepers worked their way up the trunk of an oak. A small bird flicked out of the ivy right in front of us – the Firecrest again. It was feeding in the hedge, right down at eye level, giving us stunning close-up views.

Firecrest – in the hedge again

The Firecrest eventually flew up higher into the trees and we had to tear ourselves away. We walked round via the lake, where a Little Grebe laughed at us from deep in the reeds. Another Treecreeper landed in a tree right in front of us, before flying off out to the island. There were a few Gadwall (the connoisseur’s duck!) and Mallard on the water, a pair of Mute Swans and a pair of Canada Geese asleep on the far bank. A pair of Little Grebes were diving below the trees on the back edge.

On our way back, we stopped for the Tawny Owl. It was roosting in its usual tree and nicely out in a slightly more open spot again today, so we had a great view through the scope of it looking back down at us, before it lost interest and went back to sleep.

Tawny Owl – in its usual tree

It had been getting progressively cloudier and greyer for a while, and as we started to walk back up to the car park it finally began to rain. Perfect timing! We got back before it set in and it was raining steadily on the drive back. An excellent first day – more tomorrow.

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