9th March 2022 – A Successful Day in the Brecks

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A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. After a sunny start, there was a bit of cloud around during the day but still some nice bright intervals and it was warm, with a moderate southerly wind.

We had arranged an extra early start this morning, to give us the best chances of catching up with Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. As we walked down to the river, lots of Siskins were chattering in the trees. Turning down along the riverbank, a pair of Mandarin were standing on top of a tall standing trunk of a dead tree, presumably prospecting for a nest site. Several more pairs of Mandarin weaved in and out of the trees calling as we continued on.

Mandarin – a pair prospecting

We hadn’t gone too far before we met one of the locals on the path. They had just seen a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the alders on the other side of the river. We stood with them for a few minutes, but all was quiet, so we walked on a little further and stopped again to scan. The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker called again, somewhere between us, still on the other side of the river and after a couple of minutes we spotted it climbing up into the crown of a tall poplar.

We watched the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the scope – a male, we could see its bright red crown catch the morning sun. Then suddenly it was off and we watched it fly strongly some way downstream, appearing to cross to our side of the river as it did so.

We decided to follow it and walked on along the riverbank to a thicker group of poplars further downstream. We could hear a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling and someone picked up the female now, on the trunk of a dead tree right at the back. As we got it in the scope, the male flew in to join it and the two of them chased each other up the trunk and then launched into butterfly display, flying with exaggerated wingbeats and broadly spread wings. Great to watch!

The two Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers parted. The female landed again, away to our left, while the male flew right. The female then started to drum briefly on the trunk of a tree. The male landed much closer to us, high up on a poplar trunk, where we got it in the scope. We had a good view of its ladder-striped back and could still see its red crown as it turned its head. Then it was off again and the we watched it fly back upstream towards where we saw it earlier.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – a recent videograb

We walked back and as we got to where we had been earlier we heard Lesser Spotted Woodpecker calling back on the other side of the river. We looked across to see both birds, the male and female, chasing through the alders.

Mission accomplished, we set off to walk back. We cut across to the railway and walked up to the underpass. There were several Lesser Redpolls and Reed Buntings in the bushes and a pair of Stonechats in the reeds.

There was no sign of any Woodlarks by the railway, although it was a bit cloudy and cool now. We could see clearer skies approaching again from the west so we decided to walk over to another clearing to try there. We were in luck – as we arrived, the sun came out and a Woodlark fluttered up overhead, singing its rather mourful-sounding song. A real sound of early spring in the forest.

On our way back to the car park, we swung round through the trees to the church. On our way up, all was quiet, but one last try on our way back down and we found a Firecrest fluttering around up in the firs above us.

With a bit of warmth in the air now, we drove on into the forest to look for Goshawks. We parked at a high point, looking across over the trees and got out to scan. We didn’t have to wait too long before a Goshawk appeared, an adult male, although it quickly dropped down again below the tree line. A few minutes later, someone spotted another, distantly off to our right and we looked round to see three Goshawks up together, displaying, flying with exaggerated deep wingbeats. Presumably the local pair seeing off a potential rival, we lost sight of two but watched the third circle up higher and drift off back off over the trees.

Success was coming thick and fast now. We packed up and headed for Lynford, a bit earlier than planned. Walking in down to the gate, there were lots of birds feeding on the ground below the trees. We counted at least 25 Bramblings including some super-smart males, several Yellowhammers, Siskins, Chaffinches tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker! There had been a couple of Hawfinches earlier, but there was no sign now, so we decided to walk on down to the paddocks.

Siskin – coming to food from the gate

There was very little food put out for the birds at the bridge today, so we continued straight on. There were lots of Redwings in the paddocks, but despite scanning we could not find any Hawfinches here this afternoon. Someone we knew told us there had been a male here earlier, but there was no sign now.

Continuing a little further down the path, we noticed a small bird flicking around in the branches of a willow tree in the sunshine above us, picking at the opening leaf buds. A Firecrest! We stopped to watch it, and it dropped down into the hedge below the tree. Now at eye level, we had a fantastic look at it as it flitted through the branches. At one point, it stopped for a rest, head on, for several seconds and we got a close look at its distinctive head pattern. Absolutely stunning!

Firecrest – stunning views

We decided to have another go for Hawfinch back up at the gate. On the way, we stopped to look at the Tawny Owl roosting in the trees. It was showing unusually well today – we found a spot where we had a clear view of where it was roosting and looked up to see it staring down at us. We got the scope on it, and it quickly decided we were harmless and went back to sleep.

Tawny Owl – staring at us

From the gate, we didn’t have to wait too long before a Hawfinch dropped down along the edge of the tree tunnel in amongst the finches. In a group of Bramblings, you could really appreciate how big it was – head and shoulders above its smaller cousins. All head and shoulders – we could also really appreciate the size of its cherry stone-crushing bill and all the associated head muscles to control it.

Hawfinch – feeding with Bramblings

When the Hawfinch finally flew up into the trees again and disappeared, we walked back to the car park for lunch, with a quick stop to get a coffee at the shepherd’s hut on the way. We had done really well this morning, and seen almost all of our target species, but rather oddly we had not seen a Marsh Tit. So after lunch, we walked back into the arboretum to see if we could rectify that.

There were a lot of people at the gate now, so we carried on down to the lake. We stopped at the bridge and scanned the trees and were quickly rewarded with a Marsh Tit in the trees on the edge of the water. As we walked down the path beside the lake, a Little Grebe laughed at us from the reeds. A few Gadwall and a pair of Canada Geese were late additions to the day’s list.

It had been an early start this morning, and we had arranged to have a correspondingly early finish this afternoon. So after a very successful day’s birding in the Brecks, we turned and made our way slowly back to the car park.

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