2nd April 2022 – Back to the Brecks

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A group day tour today, down in the Brecks, one of two this weekend. The Brecks Tour season is now drawing to a close, so it was nice to spend a few days down here again before the focus shifts to spring migrants and the coast. After a cold start, it was a bright and mostly sunny day with much lighter winds than of late. Nice weather to be out in, particularly after the wind and snow showers over the last couple of days.

We met down in the Brecks a little earlier than usual this morning, and made our way down to the river. As we walked along the bank, a Grey Wagtail flew off ahead of us calling. There were lots of Bramblings in the sallows, but they were very mobile and wouldn’t sit still for us. We could hear a chorus of them singing too, if it can be called that, a rather odd wheezy sound. They should be on their way back to Scandinavia soon.

A Green Woodpecker called from across the river, a Treecreeper flicked ahead of us into a willow where we watched it climbing up the trunk and a Nuthatch piped loudly from up in the poplars. A pair of Mandarin flew past along the river.

Stock Dove – displaying above us

We walked on down to where the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker had been excavating in recent days and trained the scopes on the tree. There was no activity here at first so we waited and watched. Two Stock Doves were up in the trees above us, the male displaying. We could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the distance and another appeared closer to us, before flying off back through the trees. A Kingfisher called and shot past behind us along the river.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – flew in

After a while, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called and we turned to see the male fly in the tree. It landed on the trunk, looked into the hole, and disappeared inside. It didn’t stay in the hole long at first, but flew out again and back to the trees behind. After a couple of minutes it came back in and disappeared back into the hole and this time it started excavating. It’s head appeared at the entrance to the hole occasionally with a bill full of woodchips, which it threw out before resuming work.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – excavating

Eventually the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker came out again and this time flew off over the river. We decided to walk on a little further. There were several Mandarin on the river now, two pairs and a lone male which was hiding on the far bank and then swam off ahead of us. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted and a Water Rail squealed from the undergrowth, but neither could be seen. A Buff-tailed Bumblebee buzzed around the bank – nice to see some insects emerging despite the recent cold snap. But there was no sign of any Otters now, we were too late in the day really.

Mandarin – one of several along the river

On the way back, we cut round via the railway. Several Bramblings flew up into the tops of the trees ahead of us and we got one in the scope, a smart male with an increasingly black head. More finches were flying into the sallows to drink and bathe further along, more Bramblings, several Lesser Redpolls and one or two Chaffinches. A Reed Bunting and a male Yellowhammer appeared in the top of one of the taller trees and a female Stonechat perched up on the bushes by the railway. A Woodlark came up from the other side of the tracks and fluttered up into the blue sky where it started singing. We watched as it circled round overhead and disappeared off west.

Through the underpass, we found a pair of Stonechats now and a pair of Yellowhammers which flew up into pines. A couple of Linnets were feeding on the track. But there was no further sign of the Woodlark now, so we walked back to the car park.

We drove into the forest now and parked on some high ground overlooking the trees. Several Brown Hares were in the field nearby, along with a number of Red-legged Partridges. One or two Lapwings were displaying over the field behind and a Mistle Thrush was singing in the top of a tall pine tree. We heard a Woodlark calling just above us, and looked up to see it perched in a nearby tree. It flew to the next tree along and started singing, then dropped down into the grass below. When a farm truck drove into the field, the Woodlark flew up again and landed in a small tree across the road. A Skylark was singing too – it almost felt like spring again!

Woodlark – singing in the tree above

There were a few clouds in the sky when we arrived and it felt a bit cooler. Gradually they cleared to hazy sunshine and first the Buzzards started to come up, along with a distant Red Kite. Then a Goshawk appeared, a young bird, which flew across low over the trees and was quickly lost to view behind the taller pines. A Sparrowhawk circled up further over, much smaller, flying with rapid-fire bursts of wingbeats. Then another Goshawk appeared off the other way, another juvenile (2nd calendar year), and started displaying, flying round with exaggerated deep wingbeats. Almost immediately, an adult Goshawk came up from below, its white undertail coverts fluffed out, and chased after the youngster. We watched the two displaying together, circling round and chasing. Eventually the juvenile drifted away and the adult dropped back down into the trees.

We had a quick look in some nearby fields next and were rewarded with two Stone Curlews! They were rather distant, and very well camouflaged against the stoney Breckland ground, but we had a good view through the scopes at least while the sun was behind the clouds. When the sun came out again there was too much heat haze and the Stone Curlews melted away into the background.

Stone Curlew – well camouflaged

It had been a very productive morning, so we made our way down to Lynford now for a late lunch and a coffee break. Afterwards, we walked down along the track by the arboretum. We stopped to watch a pair of Goldcrests low in the bushes, the male displaying with its orange crest fluffed out, before flying up into the low branch of a larch behind to feed. We discussed the differences in head pattern compared to Firecrest. Then helpfully there was a Firecrest just a little further along, in the trees above the gate. It flicked in and out of the ivy, then flew across and landed in a small holly in the arboretum. We had lovely views now in the sunshine – we could clearly see the bold white supercilium.

There was no food on the ground from the gate, so we walked in and down through the arboretum. There was a nice display of primroses under the trees, a Kestrel flew off over the clearing and disappeared towards the Hall and a flock of Redwings came out of the trees and disappeared off over the lake. A Nuthatch was piping in the tangled old oak and we stopped to watch a pair of them as they climbed up and down the gnarled branches.

Nuthatch – in the gnarly old oak

We had a quick look for the resident Tawny Owl. There had been no sign yesterday in the wind, but we refound it today back in the same tree but in a slightly different position. It was harder to see clearly here – we could only see the back of it from one side, and we were looking up at its breast from the other side of the tree, although its head did appear from behind the foliage a couple of times, when it moved.

Tawny Owl – well hidden today

Down at the bridge, we had put some food out first thing this morning, but it was almost all gone now. There were still a few Blue Tits and Great Tits coming in and out, and then a female Mallard flew up onto the pillar – no wonder the food had all gone if the greedy ducks are getting involved too!

A Song Thrush was feeding in the grass on the near edge of the paddocks, just by the start of the path down along the side of the lake, but then it seemed to follow us all the way down to the middle of the paddocks, because it was down there when we got there. A Mistle Thrush was on the grass further back. A pair of Gadwall and several more Mallard were on the pool in the cattle field the other side of track, along with a Grey Heron stalking the shallows and a pair of Egyptian Geese out on the grass beyond.

There was a Marsh Tit in the edge of the pines further up, which flew which across to the hedge and then followed it back towards the bridge. It was very quiet in the paddocks, with next to nothing in the trees today. There is no sign of any Hawfinches now, with them possibly having dispersed already for the breeding season, after the very warm weather last week – a reminder that the best of the early spring in the Brecks is drawing to an end. Down to the end, we couldn’t relocate the flock of Redwings now, but we did get a pair of Mistle Thrushes in the scope.

We made our way slowly back. A Marsh Tit was singing in the trees right next to the bridge now and a pair of Reed Buntings were in the bushes nearby. Another Goldcrest was calling from a fir tree by the path beyond. By the time we got pack to the car park, it was unfortunately time to call it a day. But what a day it had been and we had been so lucky with the weather.

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