A Summer Tour to the Brecks today. It was a little overcast with a light breeze, but bright and warm first thing – perfect birding weather! However, the sun came out and it warmed up a lot in the afternoon.
We met up in Mundford and headed over to our first stop at Weeting Heath. Walking through the trees, we could hear Goldcrests and Coal Tits calling, and a Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the path briefly. We walked over to where we had found the Spotted Flycatcher nest a couple of weeks ago and could immediately see the birds flashing through the trees. They were moving about so fast , it was hard to get everyone onto them. Then one of the parents dropped down to the nest almost unseen and, after a lightning feed, flew off again.
Eventually the Spotted Flycatchers settled down a little. One flew in and perched up for a minute or so right in front of us with food, before dropping back onto the nest. Much better views!
While we were standing watching the Spotted Flycatchers, we could hear a Firecrest singing in the pines above us. After a bit of scanning we managed to find it, but the views from directly underneath were not that illuminating! Thankfully, it dropped down to another tree a little further away and we could get a good look at its head pattern. It continued singing for much of the time we were admiring the flycatchers.
Round at the hide, it didn’t take us long to pick up a Stone Curlew. One in particular came quite close today and, with the breeze and cloud, there wasn’t so much heat haze so we got good views of them. There were another two a little further over and a fourth just over the ridge at the back, but some of the vegetation has grown up a lot and it was hard to see if there were any more. There was a lot of Stone Curlew calling while we were there as well, which was good to hear why they got their English name (given that all the other members of the family are known as Thick-Knees).
With one of our main targets for the day in the bag already, and a great supporting cast, we moved on to our next destination, Lakenheath Fen. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked out onto the reserve – Whitethroats perching up nicely on the bushes and song-flighting, the very melodic Blackcaps in the trees, Reed Warblers appropriately enough in the reeds and Cetti’s Warblers lurking unseen in the undergrowth.
The view from the New Fen viewpoint was a little quiet at first, but it didn’t take long to hot up. A Kingfisher called from the trees behind us and then flashed out over the water before perching up in the top of the reeds the other side. We got it in the scope and got a great look at it. It dropped down into the water a few times, but then returned back to a different spot in the top of the reeds empty-billed. Finally it decided to try its luck elsewhere and disappeared off over the reeds in a flash of electric blue.
We were just thinking about moving on when a shout alerted us to a Bittern flying over the reeds. It circled round and flew leisurely away from us along one of the channels before dropping down out of sight. Great stuff.
There was a light breeze blowing which kept the temperature and humidity down this morning, but the dragonflies were also a little subdued. We did see a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers, and there were lots of damselflies alongside the path, mostly Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.
As we walked out past the West Wood, we saw our first Marsh Harriers of the day, a female circling at first and then a male, which flew towards her and seemed as if he might be about to make a food pass, save for the absence of any food! Instead, he took a little swerve towards her with talons down and she took evasive action. There were lots of Reed Warblers and a few Sedge Warblers singing, and a couple of Reed Buntings as well.
Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we could see a couple more adult Marsh Harriers circling. A quick scan over the bushes revealed two juveniles sat in an elder bush. They looked very dark blackish, the colour of dark chocolate, with contrasting orangey heads. A little further round we saw a female which appeared to be trying to get another juvenile to fly. It had a quick circle round before dropping back down into the reeds beside her, obviously not too impressed by the lesson. It is fledging time for the Marsh Harriers.
While we were watching them, a Hobby appeared. It was catching insects above the reeds, occasionally bringing its feet up and bending its head down to devour something. Occasionally, it would sweep fast down into one of the pools of channels out of view, presumably chasing dragonflies. At the same time, another Bittern flew over the reeds away from us, but it was not up long enough to get everyone onto it, before it dropped back in out of view.
We headed up onto the river bank next, to see if we could see any Cranes. There were lots of Banded Demoiselles amongst the plants on the bank and out along the edge of the water. However, we walked some way along the path and we couldn’t see any Cranes. They just didn’t appear to be in their usual area, no matter how hard we looked, nor anywhere else in view. The vegetation has grown up a lot over the past few weeks, which doesn’t help. Eventually we had to turn back – a shame to miss them.
On our way we stopped to admire a Sedge Warbler. We had heard a couple on our walk out, but this one really performed for the assembled crowd. It kept returning to the same little clump of reeds, belting out its song. We got it in the scope and got a really good look at it, particularly the bold white supercilium.
If it hadn’t been for that Sedge Warbler we would have walked on. While we were looking at it through the scope, a last scan of the reeds behind us revealed a long neck hidden among the reeds. It just came up a little for a second, so we swung the scope round and there was a Crane. Finally! Despite it being obscured, we could see the black and white face and red on the crown. We couldn’t see its partner or chick, but that was not a surprise given the amount of vegetation it was in. The fact it was still there, feeding quietly, suggests all is well. For a bird which stands over a metre tall, it is amazing how they can hide!
Satisfied, we headed back. It was a hot walk back to the visitor centre – the sun had come out by now and the wind had dropped.
After lunch, we moved on to have a look in the Forest. We parked up and walked down a ride to one of our favourite clearings. It was a little quiet at first, in the heat of the day, but as we looked we gradually started to see a few birds. A smart male Stonechat perched up on the top of some brambles. We could hear it calling, sounding like two flints knocked together, from where it gets its name. There were also a few Yellowhammers around the clearing, looking resplendent in the sunshine.
Another bird appeared in the top of a small pine nearby, altogether slimmer and more elegant. A Tree Pipit. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. It was half-singing quietly, but it obviously didn’t feel up to song-flighting in the heat of the afternoon.
There were several Linnets flying round the clearing as well. A Sparrowhawk appeared overhead and they all flew off, calling. Then a Cuckoo started singing from the trees at the back. A careful scan and we found it sitting high in a larch tree. We could also hear several Skylarks, and found one perched up on a dead stump, but no sign of any Woodlarks today.
The other nice thing here was the number of butterflies. There were lots of skippers all over the Viper’s Bugloss flowers beside the path – mostly Small Skippers but a couple of Large Skippers as well. We could also see a couple of Common Blue, a few Small Heath and lots of Meadow Brown.
We still had time for one last stop before the end of the day. Lynford Arboretum was almost on our way, so we stopped in there for a quick look round. Not surprisingly, it was a little quiet in the heat of the afternoon. There were lots of Siskin flying around overhead, though rarely stopping. We saw Goldcrest, Nuthatch and a few tits, and we heard a couple of Treecreepers and a Marsh Tit calling. We flushed a couple of Song Thrush from the ground in the arboretum. Down by the lake, we found a couple of Little Grebes. However, we didn’t really have time to do it justice today, and all too soon it was time to call it a day.