Sunday 3 March 2024

The Brecks - 2nd March 2024

A adventure:

My third Breckland trip in recent weeks saw us meeting at a ride near Weeting where a Great Grey Shrike had been loitering around a clearing for over a week.  It was blustery and cold and rain was in the air but we ambled down through the woods with Nuthatches being especially noisy with both callas and songs being heard through the pines.  Marsh Tits and Treecreepers were also heard but both remained high up.

A Woodlark’s mellifluous song cut through the sound of the wind amongst the pine needles and a wheezy Yellowhammer was declaring his lamentations for the lack of milky by-products.  Both were singing from the same tall tree top at one stage while a Mistle Thrush threw in his own mournful refrain.

We took the path away from the little huddle of birders and within just a couple of minutes I had found the Great Grey Shrike perched atop one of the very tall pine stumps in the clearing.  At this point it was clear that it was raining where the Shrike was sitting but it took another couple of minutes to get to where we were standing.

Great Grey Shrike

This species was such a regular part of my formative years birding with regular birds to be seen during the course of most winters around the Brecks, New Forest and Suffolk Sandlings.  It was a bird we expected to see.  There was even one in the Lee Valley each winter between the Fishers Green substation and Grebe Hide.  Other than the wonderful Homeyer’s form that I saw on Shetland a couple of years ago I can’t remember the last one I saw.

It looked quite dramatic with the backdrop of dark pines and fine rain.  A pair of Stonechats were using the Mullein stems as lookouts and Skylarks joined the aerial performance.

Occasionally the sun would break through and we would pretend that it had warmed up, before the cloud scudded back in and the chill returned.  We spent some time scanning the fine view across a winter wheat field to the staggered pine belt beyond but the light was tricky.  Common Buzzards were constantly on view with the best part of twenty across the vista.  I saw a male Goshawk twice but too late to get the others onto.  A flock of Brambling and several Siskins came out of the woods and Blackbirds and Song Thrushes moved across at height perhaps suggesting wintering rather than local birds.

We walked slowly back and picked up the now mobile Shrike several times, savouring the gleaming white underparts and black bandit mask viewable from any distance. 

Still plenty of ripe Ivy berries

Great Grey Shrike- Peter Webster

After a brief comfort stop we swung back up to Cockley Cley where a blustery session saw us rewarded with several views of male Goshawks actively hunting the forest edge; often dipping into the trees and sending Woodpigeons and passerines up and out of cover.  There were so many Buzzards including at least two of the very white birds once again.  At one stage there were 17 in view.  A single Sparrowhawk and Red Kite were noted and a large female Goshawk eventually put on a show that included some half hearted display for us.  Two Oystercatchers were merrily kleeping across the muddy pig fields where Grey and Pied Wagtails foraged.

Back to Lynford Arboretum once again for lunch and an afternoon stroll.  The weather was changeable if I a being polite with sharp showers that caused us to seek shelter under the boughs of the stately Sequoias. The alley was full of birds once again and the Hawfinches were incredibly noisy all around us.  The little orchard paddock alongside hosted at least 12 birds and others were dropping down into the bank of glorious Cherry Plum where we all watched them quietly nibbling on the buds and petal.  We then watched two males and female on the deck with the Bramblings but it was the contrast of colours as the fed in the snowy blossom that made the greatest impression.


Two Yellowhammers, Nuthatches and Marsh Tits also came down before the sun reappeared and we opted to continue on our circuit where some dangling Siskins were the highlight along with a single flyover Crossbill.

Elm flowers

The Box trees here are very impressive as elsewhere in the Brecks and were in imminent flower.  There was no sign of any Box-tree moth damage.

Sweet Violet

Wondrous Cladonia sp


and just a few feet away in the same ditch - Fools Watercress

Little Grebes and Kingfisher were heard on the lake although neither were seen and three Gadwall dozed on the bank.  Firecrests were very quiet but after we had had a coffee and natter and began to pack up for home two started singing right by the cars with one appearing at bonnet level in front of my car before zipping away while I hopped around with one foot out of my Wellington.  The other male kept singing but remained high in his own personal Sequoia.

With more rain pattering down we all bid our farewells after another successful Breckland venture.