A Private Tour today, with a group over from Australia, and we headed down to the Brecks. What a glorious day – sunny and warm, with temperatures over 17C – a massive improvement on yesterday.
It was a slightly later than normal start and we met up in North Norfolk. On the drive down, we went to look for Stone Curlews. It didn’t take us long to find one, conveniently standing in a bare field. It was a bit close to the road at first, but as we pulled up it walked out across the field to where we could observe it without disturbing it. We got some great scope views of it.
While we were standing by the road, a Red Kite appeared overhead. It circled over and disappeared beyond the hedge – a nice bird for the day. But it obviously didn’t appreciate the lack of attention it received, so it promptly circled back and came right over us. Stunning.
We drove a little further on and found yet another Stone Curlew. This one was a little more distant, on the edge of the crop next to a ploughed strip.
With the morning already getting on after the long drive down, we headed for Lynford Arboretum next. Unfortunately, the mowing gang were in town and mowing the grass amongst the trees with two noisy ride-on mowers. We heard a Firecrest singing from the tops of some fir trees but we struggled to see it. We positioned ourselves to get a look and one of the mowers decided to come and mow right around us. Very frustrating when you are trying to listen to bird song! We decided to walk round the rest of the Arboretum and come back later.
We saw a good selection of the usual woodland species as we walked. A family of Nuthatches came down to the bridge, the adults leading the juveniles. There was no food out for them today, unfortunately, but the adults had a good inspection of the bridge posts. They flew around us, really close, and we watched the adults bringing food back to the youngsters.
There were also plenty of Treecreepers in amongst the trees, and a good selection of tits. A Coal Tit basked in the sun on one of the lower branches of a fir tree, but a Marsh Tit was less accommodating and disappeared into the trees before we could all get onto it. There were lots of Blackcaps singing in the bushes and eventually we found a singing Garden Warbler too, though it was hidden from view. We heard a couple of Siskin flying overhead as we walked round, but eventually a male sat in the top of a pine tree singing so we could get it in the scope.
We could hear that the mowers had stopped mowing, so we walked back up to the Arboretum. A singing Goldcrest perched up nicely and even stayed still long enough so we managed to get it in the scope. The Firecrest was still singing but still not playing ball – we saw it flying round between the trees, but it wouldn’t perch up for us. Then the mowing gang decided to start up their mowers again, probably having seen us trying to listen to the birds singing! We tried to walk away from them round the arboretum, but they had mowed the grass all round so it was very disturbed throughout the Arboretum today. We did hear another couple of Firecrests as we made our way round, but they too were right in the tops of the trees. A pair of Bullfinches perched up briefly in the trees.
After a stop in Brandon for the group to buy some lunch, we drove round to Lakenheath Fen for the afternoon. By the Visitor Centre, we could hear a couple of Cetti’s Warblers singing. One of them perched up briefly in a willow. There was also a Reed Warbler singing, which sat out in the open much longer and let us all get a really good look at it. Out along the main path, there were lots of Whitethroats singing – much easier to see, as they have a nice habit of perching in the tops of bushes. And there were several Blackcaps singing from the poplars.
New Fen Viewpoint seemed a little quiet at first. A couple of Reed Buntings flew in to the edge of the water and a male Marsh Harrier circled up distantly over the reeds. It was only as we started to leave that things started to pick up. A Hobby appeared above us, circling over the reedbed, hawking for flying insects. Then a second Hobby appeared, then a third. We watched them all circling over the fen, feeding.
Then the male Marsh Harrier reappeared, and this time he was clearly carrying food. We watched as he circled low over the reeds and the female Marsh Harrier came up next to him. They circled together for a second, then as she passed below him, he dropped the food and she caught it. A food pass – great to witness.
As usual at Lakenheath at this time of year, there were Cuckoos everywhere. We could hear them pretty much constantly, the ‘cuck-kooing’ of the males, and we also heard the distinctive bubbling call of the female. They were flying round all the time – we saw several pairs flying, the male chasing after the female. And we saw a couple of nicely perched birds. It is such a pleasure to see so many Cuckoos, particularly considering how scarce they have now become away from areas where there are lots of Reed Warbler nests to parasitise.
As we walked out towards the Joist Fen Viewpoint, a large shape appeared above the reeds – a Bittern. Unfortunately, it dropped back into the reeds all too quickly. Out over Joist Fen we could see loads more Hobbys. The more we looked, the more we saw – it was hard to count how many were there. We had a minimum of 13 in the air together, and with all the birds we had seen on the way out, and that we saw on the way back, we must have seen a minimum of 20 in the day.
From there, we walked up onto the river bank. We could see two adult Common Cranes out in the reeds and we got them in the scope. They were feeding quietly, and remarkably hard to see when they were doing so, for a bird which stands over 1m tall. However, occasionally they would stop to have a look round, stretching their necks up when they did so. Then they were slightly easier to see. We couldn’t see the young Cranes today, but we kept our distance and didn’t walk down the bank to avoid disturbing them.
We had seen a small crowd gathered by the main path on our way out, and they were still standing patiently as we walked back. They were waiting for the Little Bittern to show itself. Little Bitterns are natives of central & southern Europe, though they have bred in UK in Somerset in the past. A male Little Bittern has been at Lakenheath Fen for over two weeks now. On our way back we could hear it ‘singing’. Its song is a little like a cross between a dog and a toad croaking, sometimes known as ‘barking’. Some people have waited 10 hours to see it, and then it only flies briefly across the tops of the reeds. We stopped for a minute or so to listen to it, but it didn’t fly up while we were there. Still, a great bird to hear. On the way back we heard a male (Great) Bittern booming as well – it was really good to hear the two species within a few hundred yards of each other!
To finish, we had a quick look from the Washland Viewpoint. It was a bit quiet today. There were a couple of pairs of nesting Great Crested Grebes, a Common Tern or two, and a smattering of ducks, but nothing out of the ordinary. Still, it was lovely sitting up on the riverbank, all the more so given that we had stopped in at the Visitor Centre to buy ice cream on our way there! A nice way to round off the day.