5th March 2022 – Brecks Day Tour

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A single day Group Tour down in the Brecks today. The weather forecast (ever reliable!) was originally for a dry day, then changed the night before to rain all day. It was grey and damp and we did have light misty drizzle on and off, but thankfully the heavy rain never appeared and it meant we could get a full day’s birding in unhindered.

As we drove down towards Santon Downham, a large cloud of Brambling came up from the beech trees beside the road ahead of us. We parked in the Forestry Commission car park and walked down towards the river. There were lots of Siskins chattering away in the trees down towards the bridge, and we stopped to look at a couple in the branches above us.

It was very wet, but we decided to have a go along the riverbank path to see how far we could get. We could hear a Woodlark calling and then singing briefly in the distance, and a Reed Bunting was singing from the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from somewhere too.

Alerted to their approach by their calls, we stopped to watch a pair of Mandarin flying through the trees on the other side of the river. They landed in one of the alders, but were obscured from view by thick branches. They took off again and disappeared back into the trees, then a flock of four Mandarin appeared followed by another flock of five a bit further up. There were at least 10 Mandarin here together – they have moved down to the river now to look for places to nest.

A little further on, one of the group spotted a raptor flying in from behind us on the Suffolk side. It was a ringtail Hen Harrier, a surprise to see one here and possibly a migrant following the river. We stopped to watch a pair of Marsh Tits feeding in the trees above us too.

We managed to get down to the poplars on the corner, but it was slow going given the muddy path. We stopped here to listen, hoping for woodpeckers. We did manage to find a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, the male excavating on a tree trunk while the female climbed around in the birches behind, but no sign of any others here today. There was no drumming and very little vocal activity this morning – perhaps not a surprise given the weather. We did see Nuthatch, Stock Dove, Jay and a couple of Common Buzzards while we were listening.

Woodlark – one of three

We decided to head back, cutting across to the railway line where a male Yellowhammer was singing in a bush the other side. Through the underpass, we stopped at the junction to scan and a pair of Stonechats were flitting around over by the pines. We had just got the male in the scope when two other birds came up from the ground nearby and one landed in the top of a small pine – Woodlarks. We had a good look through the scope, before they flew again, three of them now, and we watched them disappear off towards the river.

Cold and damp, it was not really a good day for seeing raptors, but scanning over the trees we picked up a Goshawk now, circling up in the distance. We got it in the scope, even if it was a long way off we could see the distinctive shape.

As we started to walk on, the Woodlarks flew in again. One started songflighting behind us, fluttering round overhead singing its somewhat mournful-sounding song, before dropping down to the ground. We walked back and could see one feeding on the ground briefly, before it disappeared into the vegetation. Another then came up from the edge of the path a little further back. They were rather flighty today, so we left them in peace.

Back over the bridge, we cut up to the churchyard through the trees. A couple of Bramblings came up from the ground and landed briefly in the branches above us, before flying off. A pair of Goldcrests were flitting around in one of the firs, but otherwise there weren’t many other birds here today, with the cool breeze catching us here from across the river.

We were still hoping we might be able to get better views of Goshawk, despite the weather. So we walked back to the car park, and drove over to a vantage point overlooking the forest. Lots of Redwings flew up from the verge under the trees and as we parked and got out of the minibus, a flock of Fieldfares came overhead. We thought we could combine a bit of scanning with an early lunch, although the drawback of being out in the open is that we could feel the cold breeze now and the drizzle seemed to be more persistent here.

Thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long. Clouds of Woodpigeons erupted from the trees and it was obvious they were being stirred up by something. At first, all we could see were Common Buzzards but after the Woodpigeons settled down again we picked up a Goshawk circling up out of the trees with a couple of the Buzzards. We got it in the scope – a young male Goshawk. The Goshawk didn’t gain too much height before breaking off and flying slowly across over the trees in front of us. It was in view for some time before it dropped down and disappeared behind the pines.

Better views than we might have hoped for today, people were getting cold so we quickly finished our sandwiches and headed back down to Lynford. We hadn’t gone far when another huge flock of Bramblings and Chaffinches came up from the verge. There were still dozens of birds in the bushes, so we stopped alongside for a quick look. As we turned off the main road, a Little Egret came up from the ditch.

Bramblings – from the gate

In the car park at Lynford, it was much more sheltered back in the trees. We had hoped to get a hot drink from the coffee van but there was a big queue, so we carried on down to the gate. There didn’t seem to much food left on the ground now and few birds at first, but we could hear Bramblings calling in the trees above and gradually birds started to drop down. There were some very smart male Bramblings, with bright orange breasts and shoulders and variable amounts of summer black developing on their faces.

Several Yellowhammers dropped down too, one or two bright males looking stunning in the shade under the trees.

Yellowhammer – from the gate

We walked on down the track to the bridge, where a few birds were coming in to feed on the remains of the seed left on the pillars. A pair of Nuthatches were clambering around in the branches of an old oak and a couple of Treecreepers disappeared into the alders.

We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the Hawfinches, so we carried on down to the paddocks. They had been feeding under the first hornbeam but had flown up into the branches when we arrived at the gate. We just had time to get them in the scope before they flew further down.

From the gap in the hedge further along, we had a good view of them now perched in the trees. We counted at least six Hawfinches in the branches of the second hornbeam. We admired their massive cherry-stone cracker bills and ornate primaries.

Hawfinch – in the hornbeam

There were lots of Redwings here too, perching up in the trees, then dropping down to the ground to feed among the molehills, before spooking and flying back up again. We had a good look at them through the scope too. A Mistle Thrush flew up into the top of the trees with them. There were a few other finches – Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches – up in the branches too.

Eventually all the Hawfinches drifted back to the first hornbeam, so we walked back to the gate. They were feeding on the ground now, most under the trees but several out in the grass too. We counted at least twelve now, but some were hidden from view behind the fallen boughs so there may well have been more than that. Down on the ground, rather than up in the trees against the light, the colours really stood out and we turned the scope on one or two lovely rich chestnut-coloured males.

Hawfinch – feeding on the ground

Taking the path down along the lake, there were a few Gadwall and Mallard on the water and a pair of Canada Geese on the lawn in front of the hall. The resident pair of Mute Swans swam over to see if we had any food for them. A little group of Siskins were feeding on the ground by the path and kept flying up ahead of us before dropping down a metre or two further along. They were remarkably tame and allowed us very close views.

Siskin – feeding on the path

We continued on down the path past the back entrance to the hall. There were lots more Siskins feeding in the alders here and we had better views of Treecreeper on the tree trunks just across the water. Then we turned and made our way back. A Little Grebe was diving under the trees on the far side of the lake now and a pair of Mandarin shot through the trees calling as we got back to the bridge.

The Tawny Owl was roosting in its usual tree but more concealed than usual in the branches today. We got it in the scope from both sides of the tree and got a composite view of various bits of it.

There was no queue at the coffee van now, so those who still wanted one finally got their hot drink. While we enjoyed it, we had a little walk along the road. A pair of Marsh Tits were feeding on the ground under the trees and a Treecreeper sang nearby.

We walked back to the car park to end the day. Yes, it had been grey and damp, but we had seen most of the birds we had set out to see this morning, so not a bad day out all told.

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