Friday 17 February 2023

Brecks guided walk, 16 February 2023

Talk as we travelled was about the weather, but happily the drizzle petered out and wasn’t a nuisance, though it remained grey all day. 

There was lots of bird song at the Forestry Commission’s car park at Santon Downham – we heard song thrushes and robins for much of the day, plus coal tit here. We crossed the bridge over the river Little Ouse, returning to Norfolk by doing so; nearby there was a nuthatch on a tree top. On the river were mute swans, mallards and moorhen, and two little grebes became three, then four.

Little Ouse. We liked the sculpture-like upturned branches in the river.
An old tree stump had many large plates of southern bracket. Other fungi today included turkeytail, an old oyster fungus of some type and three hoof fungi on a tall birch stump.

Southern bracket and digiscoped hoof fungus.
Everywhere there was dead wood: stumps, fallen trees – including some in or over the river – and a lot of standing dead wood. Cheryl found a treecreeper, though it was no surprise that we didn’t see or hear the lesser spotted woodpeckers known from here: typically they show on a bright late winter’s day. The only woodpecker was a distant drumming, out of sight, which was probably a great spotted woodpecker. We found some tree top siskins, one twisting its tail making it seem like a bigger bird then we’d expect.

Ann has trained us well, and many of us found cigar galls on reeds.

Parsley piert.
We took a return route along the edge of a reedbed, under the railway and onto the heath. A sandy, disturbed patch here had emerging leaves of parsley piert, easy to overlook even when in flower, which this wasn’t. We then overlooked the heath on the other side of road where a mistle thrush on the ground flew to a bare tree and soon there were four, with some jostling going on within the mistle thrush hierarchy. Our first buzzard of the day appeared. Ann and went to look at a stump that was covered with fungi. From the top they looked like turkeytail but the gills on the underside meant a rethink: oak mazegill.

Oak mazegill.
We enjoyed the sight of highland cattle and, in a rushy field, a pair of stonechats.

Stonechat, male, digiscoped.
We had our picnics in the car park and it was dry enough for four of us to share a bench. From here there were glimpses of stock dove and woodpigeon display flights, plus collared doves.

We drove to Lynford Arboretum for the rest of the afternoon. We paused where the Forestry Commission puts out food. For moment it seemed like it was mostly blue and great tits feeding, though soon yellowhammers appeared.

Yellowhammer, digiscoped in the gloom. Still, you can see what it is.
Farther on, over the river, we scanned the row of trees known to attract hawfinches. Instead, the main attraction here was redwings, perching mostly high in the trees. A great spotted woodpecker joined them.

Joining other birdwatchers a little farther along, one of them was alert to small birds arriving to perch high on distant conifers: hawfinches. There were four – two and two – that stayed for a good while. They were distant, though their distinctive profile was clear through telescopes.

Possibly the worst photo ever included in a blog: very distant, digiscoped hawfinches on a gloomy day.

Retuning towards the bridge, several small birds were moving around the empty bird feeders here, including a marsh tit that landed on one of the low pillars on the bridge. At the feeders the yellowhammers were there again, and a siskin came to drink.

Through this guided walk, and the previous week's walk at Hickling, Honeyguide donated £175 to Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

Chris Durdin

Thursday 9 February 2023

Hickling guided walk, 9 February 2023

Though cold in the wind at times, mostly it was as sunny and bright as you could ever wish for on a winter’s day. A chaffinch was singing in the car park before eight of us checked in at NWT’s visitor centre; we were soon off on an anti-clockwise circuit of the nature reserve.

With Ann and so many reeds inevitably we soon found her speciality: cigar galls. Ann has trained us well and several of us were finding them; there must have been dozens. There was nothing to see from the first hide bar a distant harrier – there were plenty more later - so we walked on. Parts of the reedbed had been cut, cleared and burnt very recently, the usual round of winter management and habitat maintenance. The next stretch of the reserve yielded several birch polypores and the clear, metallic ‘ping’ of a calling bearded tit, though it stayed out of sight.

Cigar galls on reed.
Overlooking Hickling Broad the expected mute swan flock was well spread out. There were cormorants, great crested grebes and about a dozen very distant goldeneyes.

Having walked through the birch trees we reached where we could scan the reedbed. As well as the inevitable marsh harriers, there was a higher-flying raptor in the distance under a contrail which came nearer and became a red kite.

On a perch above the reeds towards the broad was a crow which had a greyish body, not as grey as a hooded crow but enough to catch the eye. Later, talking to Rachel and the team back at the visitor centre, they told us that what they regard as a hybrid hooded-carrion crow has been around, off and on, for five or six years.

Ducks on Brendan's Marsh: shelduck, shovelers, gadwalls, teals.

Brendan’s Marsh had an impressive collection of wildfowl, with shovelers, shelducks, gadwalls and teals packed together. We found a goldcrest in the wood on the other side of the path next to the marsh. 

Greylag geese seen through the hedge by Brendan's marsh.
There were plenty of greylag geese in several areas and we saw these best as we walked along the other side of Brendan’s Marsh: they were just the other side of the hedge, feeding in an arable field. That hedge had a lovely edge of flowering gorse, with its distinct coconut scent and yellow blooms attracting several honey bees.

Honey bee on flowering gorse.

From the Stubbs Mill raptor viewpoint it was warm in the midday sunshine. There were three flying great white egrets, albeit distant, and four soaring buzzards. A small oak tree had lots of marble galls.

Marble galls on an oak by the raptor viewpoint.

Back at the visitor centre it was warm enough to sit outside to eat picnics, where we could watch dancing winter gnats and be entertained by robins, long-tailed tits and house sparrows around the bird feeders.

Through this guided walk, and the following week's walk at in the Brecks, Honeyguide donated £175 to Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

Chris Durdin

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