2nd Mar 2019 – Brecks & Winter Birds, Day 2


Day 2 of a three day tour today, focusing on the Brecks and some of our lingering winter visitors on the coast. It was meant to be the best weather of the weekend this morning, but once again the forecast had changed at the last minute and rather than sunshine we were now faced with grey skies and cool temperatures. Thankfully the light drizzle first thing had dried up by the time we got down to the Brecks and it was still hoped to brighten up later in the day.

The main target for the morning was to be Goshawks, but while we waited for an improvement in the weather, we decided to explore some of the forest clearings. We parked by a ride and as we got out of the van we could hear a Woodlark calling. We looked round and saw it land in one of the bare deciduous trees between where we had parked and the neighbouring clearing.

A second Woodlark then fluttered up from the edge of the clearing, and gave us a quick burst of its rather mournful song. It too landed, in the top of a tree closer to us, and we had a good look at it through binoculars. Unfortunately, by the time we had got all the scopes out of the van, the two Woodlarks had dropped down into the clearing again and disappeared.

Woodlark – landed in one of the trees next to where we parked

Walking down along the path, a Great Tit was singing in the trees and a couple of Siskins flew over calling. We could hear a Redpoll calling some way off, but we couldn’t see where it was. We flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the edge of the clearing, which flew out and landed in the middle. A Song Thrush was singing in the distance, and a little further along we heard a Mistle Thrush singing too.

We made our way round to a another fenced-off clearing, where we managed to get the scope on a Mistle Thrush perched in the top of an isolated bare tree. A Woodlark flew round over the middle, its fluttering, bounding flight suggesting it might be singing but we didn’t hear it and the song normally carries a long way. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was perched high in some tall poplars on the far side of the clearing. A smart male Yellowhammer perched up more obligingly in the top of a bare tree.

There were a few tits in the trees, but nothing was singing today in the cool, grey weather. On the walk back, we stopped to watch a small flock of Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits and Blue Tits feeding in the tops of some oak trees.

The sky seemed to be brightening a little away to the west, so more in hope than expectation we made our way round to a high point overlooking the forest. It was a good job we did, perfect timing, as we were not even out of the van before we spotted a Goshawk circling up above the trees.

Goshawks – we watched a pair displaying just as we arrived

A second Goshawk appeared with it, and we watched them displaying. The big female below performed a slow flapping display, flying across with exaggerated wingbeats, while the second bird followed behind and above. They flew round for a minute or so, just long enough for everyone to get a good look at them, before they disappeared down over the trees beyond.

There were a few Common Buzzards circling up too now. Three came up together away to our right, another pair was chasing each other further off to the north, and then we looked round to see one circle up from the trees behind us and promptly get mobbed by by six Jackdaws and a Crow!

A pair of Woodlarks flew in over the field behind us, the male singing its mournful song. A flock of about twenty Fieldfares perched up in the trees and from time to time a large mixed flock of Goldfinches and Linnets came up from the field below or a big group of Meadow Pipits came up from the grass. A flock of Lapwings flew over too.

It wasn’t long before another Goshawk came up, flying low across over the trees in front, before dropping down into the wood in the corner, sending crowds of Woodpigeons bursting into the air in panic. Then a juvenile Goshawk started displaying, which promptly brought the big resident female up to display in response.

They disappeared back over the trees, but shortly after we spotted three Goshawks circling together, presumably the juvenile we had just seen, now attracting the attention of the male as well as the female. They spent some time up in the air, at one point with the pair displaying together, the male even giving a quick burst of rollercoaster display.

Given the rather cool and cloudy weather, there was a surprising amount of Goshawk activity over the hour or so we spent watching them today, but we are probably about the peak of the display now. Finally it seemed to go a bit quieter, so we decided to go for a walk in the forest to warm up a bit.

As we walked up another ride, we could hear a Yellowhammer singing and a pair of Mistle Thrushes flew off into the trees. As we passed through a clearing, we saw several groups of finches fly up out of the tops of the pines ahead of us – we could hear Chaffinches, Siskins, Redpolls, and even some Linnets over the tops too. As we had seen yesterday, a lot of the finches are feeding in the pines, taking advantage of the cones which are opening and starting to shed their seeds.

There is a feeding table in the trees here, but there was not as much activity around it as normal this morning. A few Blue Tits and Great Tits flew in and out, stopping just long enough to grab a sunflower seed, but there was a distinct lack of other tits while we stood and watched for a minute or so.

We had hoped to find a Willow Tit here, but there was very little singing in the trees in the cool weather today – just one or two Coal Tits, much fewer than normal. The Willow Tits don’t often visit the feeding tables, but they can sometimes be heard in the trees nearby. As we walked on down the ride, we could hear another Woodlark singing in the distance, but not much else.

It was time for lunch now, so we drove down to Santon Downham to use the facilities at the Forestry Commission car park and then continued round to St Helens for lunch. On our way over, we could see some blue sky approaching from the west and finally the sun came out as we stopped to eat. A couple of Buzzards circled high overhead. A Pied Wagtail was flycatching from the roof of the toilet block. A handful of Chaffinches were feeding under the beeches at the back and a few Siskins and Goldfinches flew in and out of the pines.

After lunch, we walked down to the river. A Grey Wagtail flew off down streak as we got to the bridge, so we walked along a short way to see if we could find it. A Little Grebe was hiding down in the vegetation by the far bank, but there was no sign of the Grey Wagtail, which then flew in behind us and disappeared into the trees on the far side of the river. A Crossbill flew over calling but didn’t stop either.

Our destination for the remainder of the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. As we approached the gate overlooking the feeders, lots of birds flew up from the ground into the trees. The first to return was a Nuthatch, which kept darting in to grab a seed from the piles spread out in the leaves. There were a few tits coming in and out too.

Next came several Yellowhammers and then the Bramblings started to appear. More and more dropped down into the leaves until we counted at least twenty all on the ground together. There were some smart males, with bright oranges breasts and shoulders, some starting now to get their summer black heads already.

Brambling – at least 20 were coming to feed under the trees

Continuing on down towards the bridge, a small crowd had gathered looking up into the trees just before we got to it. They were looking at a Tawny Owl which was roosting high in a fir tree. You had to be in just the right spot to see it, so we had to take it in turns to look through the scope which had been set up there. As the branches swayed in the breeze, you could occasionally see it looking down at us.

Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl – roosting in the trees by the bridge

The afternoon was already getting on, so we continued on straight to the paddocks next. There had been some Hawfinches in the trees out in the middle earlier but they had apparently been mobile and rather elusive. They had gone rather quiet by the time we arrived. We stood and scanned the trees for a while, also checking the tops of the pines beyond.

The first Hawfinch we spotted was high in a fir tree at the back of the paddocks. Not a particularly good view at this distance, but we all had a look at it through the scope before it dropped down and disappeared. At least it was a start. Then twelve more Hawfinches flew up out of the paddocks. We didn’t see where they came from, possibly from down below the trees somewhere, and they too flew straight back up into the fir trees. We could see four or five of them clambering round among the cones in the top of one of the trees, so we decided to walk quickly round to try to get a closer look.

On our way, we stopped for a better view. There was still one Hawfinch perched high in the tops, but then it too dropped down. However, when we got closer we realised we could still see several of them lower down in the trees. They were very mobile at first, either in the firs of climbing around in an ivy covered deciduous tree, and hard to get onto. Then finally one of the Hawfinches stopped still in the open where we could get a great view of it through the scope. We could see its huge bill and big head, powerful enough to crack open cherry stones!

Hawfinch – we finally got good views of them in the trees at the back

Having had to chase around after the Hawfinches for a while, we thought we might be a bit late in the day to catch the Common Crossbills back at the bridge. But as we walked back round the paddocks, we heard a Crossbill flying in and it helpfully landed in a bare tree by the path ahead of us. We all managed to get a quick look at it in the scope, a smart red male, before it flew off over the paddocks.

We needn’t have worried, because back at the bridge, another male Common Crossbill was perched in the trees just above the pool. It was probably waiting to pluck up the courage to fly down to drink, and while it perched there we had fantastic scope filling views.

Crossbill 1
Common Crossbill – scope filling views back at the bridge

That Crossbill dropped down, then flew up and across and landed in the trees right above our heads. We got a great view of its distinctive bill, with crossed mandibles designed for prising open fir cones.

Crossbill 2
Common Crossbill – landed in the trees right above our head

A female Crossbill flew in and landed in the trees next. When she dropped down to the pool to drink, another male dropped down too. We watched them scooping up water before they flew back up into the trees.

Crossbill 3
Common Crossbill – coming down to drink at the small pool

That was a great way to end our second day down in the Brecks, with fantastic views of one of the other local specialities at close quarters. We made our way back to the van and headed for home again.

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