A relaxed day in the Brecks today – we had a requirement to go easy on the walking. The weather was grotty on the drive down, with persistent drizzle, but it had dried up by the time we met up, although it remained mostly cloudy and cool through the day.
We started at Lynford Arboretum. As we walked out of the car park, three Marsh Tits were having an argument – the resident pair obviously trying to see off an interloper above our heads. Then a Firecrest started singing behind us. We had a quick look for it, but it worked its way back into the trees away from us. Not to worry – there is no shortage of them at Lynford at the moment!
From the gate, there were four Bramblings feeding on the seed down on the ground as we walked up, a male and three females. The male was much brighter orange on breast and shoulders and had more black on the head, though still extensively fringed with pale brown.
There were plenty of other birds to look at as well. A Nuthatch came down and grapped a sunflower seed from the ground in front of us. A steady stream of tits flew down to the feeders. But there was no immediate sign of any Hawfinches. Then we heard some quiet ‘ticking’ from the trees. Walking a little further up the path and looking back, we could see a male Hawfinch sitting up in the tops. We had just enough time to get everyone on it, but unfortunately not enough time to go back and get the scope, before it flew off into the forest.
We could hear another Firecrest singing from the trees while we were looking for the Hawfinch, and it didn’t take us long to find it. It was fairly high up in some fir trees, but moving around all the time. We followed it round for a while, and eventually got a fairly good look at it – the stripey face and whitish underparts. We were just looking at a picture of it in the field guide when it obviously took offense to the fact that we were not watching it any more. Glancing up and the Firecrest flew into a small tree no more than 2 metres away from us and down at eye level – cracking views. This bird seems to have taken a shine to a local Goldcrest and spent most of its time chasing round after it, singing all the time. The Goldcrest seemed to realise it was not a match made in heaven and kept flying away!
We walked on round the Arboretum. A couple of times we picked up the distinctive call of Hawfinches again, but they were very mobile and elusive in the trees. They have been spending more time feeding on buds and the seeds from fir trees around the Arboretum in recent days. However, there were Firecrests singing everywhere, so it was hard to know how many exactly there were. At one point we had Firecrests singing on either side of us. There were also some very noisy Nuthatches and a Treecreeper which finally perched up for us briefly. And lots of Siskin buzzing around in the tops of the trees.
Heading back round towards the gate, we could hear Hawfinches calling yet again. Then two flew out of the tops of some pine trees and overhead. One disappeared off over the Arboretum, but the other looked like it might be heading towards the gate, so we went over for another look. One male and one female Brambling were still there, but nothing else of note. We decided to move on.
Once again, it wasn’t really Goshawk weather – cold and cloudy, threatening drizzle at times – but we thought we would have a look anyway. We drove deep into the Forest and set off to walk along a ride. At the first clearing we came to, a Woodlark flew up and circled round calling, giving us a great view of its distinctive short-tailed silhouette. Then it landed in the top of a tree in the middle and we got it in the scope, noting its striking pale supercilium. Further on, we could hear another Woodlark singing, and a Skylark too. A pair of Mistle Thrushes flew up into the trees.
The weather brightened a little and we even saw a patch of blue sky, but there was still no raptor activity, not even a Common Buzzard nor a Kestrel. Then the dark clouds blew over again, so we decided not to hang around. On the walk back, a single Common Buzzard flew low over the treetops.
We called in at Weeting Heath next – after our walk, it seemed to offer the perfect combination of a hide close to the car park. On the way to the hide, we stopped to admire a Long-tailed Tit nest under construction on an ivy covered pine tree next to the path.
The Stone Curlews have returned now – two pairs, apparently – but there was no sign of them when we arrived. We sat in the hide and scanned. There were lots of Lapwing and lots of Rabbits! A Common Buzzard perched up in the trees at the back. We were just about to give up when a Stone Curlew appeared. It had obviously been sitting down in a dip in the ground and we hadn’t been able to see it. Even standing up it was well camouflaged and did a reasonably impression of a stone or a Rabbit! It disappeared and then another Stone Curlew appeared from the other side of the dip and stood preening. When it sat down again, it all but disappeared from view once more.
After lunch, we headed over to Lakenheath Fen. There were lots of birds around the feeders by the visitor centre – particularly lots of Reed Buntings again. We didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve, but we headed over to the Washland viewpoint. On the way, a Chiffchaff was singing from the sallows and a Cetti’s Warbler was answering, rather loudly, from the reeds.
The water level on Hockwold Washes has risen considerably after the recent rains, and there was much less mud around the edges than in the last couple of weeks. There were very few egrets out on the water today – none to start with, then a single Little Egret flew in to the river bank in front of us and finally two more arrived at the back of the Washes. But there was no sign of the Great White Egret again – they seem to be getting rather elusive, hopefully an indication they may be up to something!
There were lots of ducks out on the Washes – Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler and Tufted Duck, but no sign of the Garganey today. There were plenty of Mute Swans too, but no others. A single Oystercatcher flew in – the only wader. The Great Crested Grebes were nice – looking splendid now in their full breeding finery. A pair or two was out on the Washes and another pair swam past along the river. Cracking birds.
While we were standing there, we could hear the distinctive ‘tchak-tchak’ call of a Fieldfare and, looking up, a flock of around 60 were flying east along the river overhead. There were a couple of smaller Redwings in with them as well. Presumably on their way back to Scandinavia. A chunky-looking pipit flew up briefly from the front edge of the Washes and dropped straight back down out of view – possibly one of the Water Pipits which has been seen in recent days. However, the highlight was a single Swallow which flew west over the Washes and along the river. Out first of the year – does that make it summer yet?
After a relaxing hour or two, we had time and just about enough strength left in limbs for one last walk. We drove back into the Forest and parked up by the usual ride. As soon as we reached the clearing, we could see the Great Grey Shrike perched up on a line of old tree stumps. It dropped down a couple of times, returning to the same perch or one nearby. We got a great look at it in the scope, such a striking bird. We walked round to the far side of the clearing and found a male Stonechat perched up on a stump. Then we turned to look for the shrike again, but it had disappeared. Unfortunately, then it was time to call it a day, after a gentle walk back to the car.