3rd March 2015 – Forest & Fen Birds

A day tour to the Brecks today. It was sleeting on the drive down, but thankfully the worst of the weather cleared away first thing. It was still cloudy through much of the morning, and windy all day, but that didn’t stop us – we had a great day.

The Hawfinches have been showing very well at Lynford in recent weeks and there was a particular request to see one of these today, so we headed to the Arboretum first. We were the only people there. A couple of Goldcrests were singing in the car park as we arrived, and a Nuthatch was calling loudly. By the road, a couple of Marsh Tits were flitting through the trees. A pair of Siskin flew over calling, chasing each other through the tops of the firs. A little group of Bullfinches fed on the buds in the bushes. Along the edge of the path, several Song Thrushes were feeding in the leaf litter and a little further along at least a dozen Redwing were in the grass, along with several Chaffinches. There seemed to be a lot of activity along the path.

We had a quick look under the trees from the gate, but there were no finches feeding in the leaves. It all looked a bit damp still from the early rain. So we carried on up the path and we had not gone much further when we struck gold. There were plenty of Chaffinches which flew up as we walked past, but ahead of us a much larger shape came up from the edge of the field and landed in the trees ahead of us, flashing a white-tipped tail as it went. A Hawfinch. It flicked to the right, out of view from where we were standing, so we started to move forward to reposition ourselves. As we did so, a second Hawfinch flew up further along and landed in one of the bushes alongside the path right in front of us. Before we could get it in the scope, it flew again, but thankfully just across the path to one of the trees on the edge of the Arboretum. It sat in the tree calling, and we got a great look at it.

P1120028 P1120034Hawfinch – this smart male sat up in a tree for us this morning, calling

We watched it for ages, and managed to position ourselves to get some better photos. We could still hear the second Hawfinch answering from the trees nearby as it called. Eventually it worked its way further up to the top of the tree. As the sun came out, it flew a short distance to the top of a taller tree and sat basking in the sun. It looked absolutely stunning in the morning light.

P1120041Hawfinch – sunning itself in the top of the trees

Eventually, it flew off across the Arboretum. Shortly afterwards, the second Hawfinch appeared from the trees as well, but it flew over towards the birds’ favoured feeding area and seemed to drop down. We walked back and could immediately see that the finches were now feeding in the leaf litter. There were lots of Chaffinches and a single Brambling with them. It did not take us long to find the Hawfinch down on the ground as well – the female this time. We had great views as it fed amongst the leaves and marvelled at its enormous nutcracker of a bill!

P1120043Snowdrops – spring is on its way to the Arboretum

We eventually tore ourselves away from the Hawfinches and went to explore the rest of the Arboretum. The trees were alive with birds – tits, Nuthatches, Treecreepers and thrushes. But time was getting on by this stage, so we decided to head on to our next target.

The weather didn’t feel particularly conducive to finding Goshawks. There were moments of sun breaking through, but it was still quite cloudy and cold in the blustery wind. We were to be pleasantly surprised. We had not been there long when the first Goshawk appeared, a big, powerful beast of a bird, drifting in from the right. It came in above the trees, but then dropped down out of sight. Almost immediately, a second Goshawk appeared from the left and headed in the direction of the first, presumably one of the resident pair looking to head off an interloper. It flew strongly, high above the trees, flashing silvery grey above and almost white below. Then it folded its wings and dropped sharply down towards where the first Goshawk had been lost from view.

The local Woodlarks were not singing this morning – it was possibly a bit too cold, though that didn’t seem to put off the Skylarks. However, while we were waiting for more action from the Goshawks, we could hear Woodlark calling in front of us. Then a pair appeared overhead, their short tails immediately distinguishing them from their more common cousins. Unfortunately, they turned and headed back out across the fields.

Shortly afterwards, another Goshawk appeared. This one was a young bird, born last year (in its 2nd calendar year), with distinctive brown-toned upperparts and black-streaked buffy-orange beneath. It circled up, pursued by a couple of the local corvids, then flew across above the trees in front of us, eventually dropping down out of sight. We were still not done with the Goshawks – then two adults appeared, presumably the resident male and the interloper again, and the latter was seen off, pursued across the tops of the trees and out of territory. What a treat – at least three Goshawks and showing regularly in the hour or so we were there.

It was time to move on and we drove over to Lakenheath Fen next, just over the Suffolk border. We had just enough time for a quick walk before lunch, so we headed out through the visitor centre to the Washland viewpoint. From up on the river bank, it didn’t take us long to find the Great White Egret – it wasn’t hard to spot the very large, very bright white shape trying to shelter from the wind on the edge of Hockwold Washes. But we turned to look at a Little Egret further along the river for comparison, and when we turned back it had gone!

P1120055Great White Egret – distant view at first, with Little Egret for comparison

There was lots of life out on the Washes – small numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Shoveler, and several very smart Great Crested Grebes. After a good look through that little lot, we decided to walk a short way along the river bank and quickly relocated the Great White Egret. This time, it was standing near a Little Egret on the Suffolk side. We got a great look at it through the scope, until a couple of people walking along the bank towards us flushed it back out onto the Washes. We headed back via the Visitor Centre, where we stopped to admire the birds coming to the feeders – a good selection of tits and finches, plus several Reed Buntings.

P1120082Reed Bunting – several were coming to the feeders at Lakenheath Fen today

After lunch, we decided to walk back out across the reserve. It was very windy in the wide open expanses of the Fen and there was very little activity – either avian or human, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, there were a couple of Marsh Harriers quartering the paddocks and the reedbed, but we could not see any sign of the local Cranes. We headed out onto the river bank to see if they might be feeding on the other side of the river but we had not gone far when two large shapes flew up from the reedbed – a pair of Cranes. We watched them fly across in front of us, long legs trailing behind and long necks stretched out in front, over the river, and land on the other side in the wet meadows. We got great views of them through the scope as they walked about in the grass, their red crowns catching the afternoon sun.

P1120085Common Crane – one of the pairs at Lakenheath Fen

It makes a nice circuit to walk back along the river bank. There were several things to see on the way – a large group of Starlings were feeding on the short grass beside the river and in amongst them was a small flock of Fieldfares together with a couple of Redwings. We flushed a party of Gadwall from one of the pools. A smart male Stonechat perched up on a bramble bush by the path. However, the highlight was a lovely pair of Whooper Swans which flew towards us from the direction of Hockwold Washes, calling, and continued straight past us.

P1120090Whooper Swans – this pair flew straight past us on the river bank

We were almost back to the Washland viewpoint when we picked up the Great White Egret again, on the near bank of the river. It saw us coming as well, and flew up almost immediately. Thankfully, it simply circled round and landed on the other side, right next to a Little Egret. We had an ever better opportunity to compare the two species right beside each other – the Great White Egret completely dwarfing its diminutive cousin. A great chance to compare and contrast.

P1120111Great White Egret – check out the long yellow/orange bill

P1120101Great White & Little Egrets – it completely dwarfs its smaller cousin!

It was already quite late by the time we made it back to the car. We had time for one quick stop on the way back, but unfortunately the wintering Great Grey Shrike which had been at Grime’s Graves for the past couple of afternoons was nowhere to be found. However, we had enjoyed a great day out in the Brecks, with an excellent selection of birds representing the best of Forest and Fen.

P1120087Lakenheath Fen – the view along the river towards Hockwold Washes

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