Friday, 3 March 2017

The first signs of Spring

With Spring just around the corner, the first warmth and a little sunshine coaxes us wildlife enthusiasts (geeks) out of hibernation. Before the arrival of our avian summer visitors there are thankfully a few, now annual, excursions into the British countryside that break up the tedium that is February.

For those willing to wander, James Lowan's ( @JLowenWildlife ) excellent book "52 Wildlife Weekends: A Year of British Wildlife-Watching Breaks" offers up some great ideas for things to do in February (and every other month) up and down the country. However, with similar species on the agenda, I stayed within East Anglia and had some great days out.

The Brecks 

With the forecast predicting sunshine and little wind, it was pre-dawn when I picked up a mate and we headed down the A11 towards Breckland. An early start is preferable for our first target of the day, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers at Santon Downham. The area is one of the last haunts in East Anglia for what was once a widespread species. Sadly on this occasion, despite perfect weather, the species lived up to it's name and remained lesser spotted... We were however treated to two young otters foraging their way down the river while looking for them.

We moved on to another area in the Brecks, this time our target was Goshawks. A disarray of cars and a line-up of the latest and greatest tripods, telescopes, DSLRs and 500mm lens indicates you've arrived at one of Norfolks, supposedly "hush-hush", premier Goshawk watching locations. It was not long after we added ourselves to the melee of birders and photographers that we were witness to why this is THE place to observe Goshawks in Norfolk. Initially one, then two pairs circled and displayed distantly over the pines to the north. A cry from a splinter-group of birders fifty yards up the road had us all focused on a lone bird powering its way from the west towards us. A fly-by, right across in front of us, before starting to display, thinning its tail and puffing out its bright-white undertail coverts. From out-of-nowhere, as often the way, a second bird joined it. It was then we were treated to my best ever views of Goshawk, a prolonged fly-by by the two birds, one following the other like a ME109 being chased by a Spitfire, every move of the front bird mirrored by the bird behind. Fantastic to watch. The birds split up, one drifted back and a sparrowhawk came in to view at the same time as the Goshawk. We all assumed the Sparrowhawk was somewhat further in the distance until a dive of the Sparrowhawk proved to be it mobbing the Goshawk and it was in fact at the same distance. Never have I seen so obviously, the dramatic size difference between the two species, the full wingspan of what was obviously a small male Sparrowhawk being smaller than a single wing of this huge, presumably female, Goshawk. To complete the action we saw the close birds in full on display once more and then one bird drifted off into a blunder of woodpigeons, even briefly attempting a hunt. Top wildlife watching!

A brief search for Stone-curlews proved fruitless so bacon sandwiches were the next target. These successfully filled the gap before the planned evening roost of Hawfinches. As far as I'm aware, this year has been the best year for Hawfinches since I arrived in Norfolk 12 years ago. With over 60 being counted coming to roost at Lynford Arboretum on previous nights, it was there we had decided to end the day. On this day, we counted somewhere in the region of 40 arriving and departing the tall pines at the arboretum, though an accurate count was impossible due to their behaviour on this particular evening. Though they were not particular close, it was great to hear them calling and see small flocks moving around the treetops. A great finish to the day.

I'll be back for them peckers.

Hawfinch high in the pines at Lynford 

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