Breaking New Ground

Reconnecting People with The Brecks

Woodlark (c) Chris Gomersall (

Woodlark (c) Chris Gomersall (

Morning Birds and Birdsong at Santon Downham

Early on Saturday 23rd April, Murray Brown, the RSPB Brecks Community Engagement Officer, along with two volunteers, met at Santon Downham to lead a “morning birds and birdsong” walk in Thetford Forest. The walk was well attended, not only attracting people who live and work in the Brecks but also visitors from further afield such as Hertfordshire, Kent and Hampshire, hoping to glimpse some of the key species of the Brecks, some for the first time. (The walking party totalled 16.)

Despite having had some glorious spring days beforehand, the weather was looking decidedly changeable so all wrapped up well. Heading out of the St Helen’s picnic area, the group was treated to the songs of common redpoll and siskin, whistling nuthatches and a flight of summer swallows. Hopes ran high! We walked out into the Forestry Commission’s pine plantations north of Santon Downham until they gave way to a section of Scots pine and then silver birch. The drizzle turned to hail but then back to broken skies and we enjoyed a great comparison of the songs of willow warbler (Murray’s favourite!), chaffinch and wren. The trees opened out into an area of clearfell and almost immediately we were delighted with close views of a singing woodlark, one of the five focal bird species of the Wings over the Brecks project.

Within ten minutes we also witnessed singing tree pipits, from the tops of the young pines, and also carrying out their wonderful “parachuting” display flights. Another woodlark graced us with its song not more than four metres away...perfect! We moved along following a brief encounter with a lovely yellowhammer. Once again the pines gave way to open grassland and eventually a riverside walk, where treecreeper and a handsome mandarin duck showed well to the whole group.

Once back at St Helen’s, we totted up our sightings and realised we had bagged 35 species during the course of the morning, including blackcap, song thrush, coal tit and displaying common buzzards. The walk was a great opportunity to learn more about bird songs and calls, the wildlife of Thetford Forest, and to inform people about Breaking New Ground’s Wings over the Brecks project.

Murray Brown, RSPB Brecks Community Engagement Officer adds: “Although there was a great variety of species to see and hear, I think the star of the show was the woodlark that posed for so long and allowed everyone excellent views through telescopes and binoculars. This was even more fitting as it’s an important focus species for the Wings over the Brecks project. It was also Richard’s first sighting of a woodlark – the bird was evidently rewarding him for all of the hard work and volunteering hours that he has put into the project so far.”

Article by Richard Greasby, Wings over the Brecks and RSPB volunteer