Day 3 of a five day Spring Migration tour today. It might be meant to be spring, but it didn’t feel like it at times today, in a very gusty wind. We headed away from the coast and down to the Brecks for the day.
On our way, we stopped to look for Stone Curlews. When we first got out of the car, we were surprised at the strength of the wind and it was cold and cloudy. We eventually found a Stone Curlew hunkered down in a field, but it had its back to us, which was not exactly the best view. We decided to try to have another look later in the day.
We weren’t sure whether Nightingales would be singing today, given the weather, but we drove down the road to one of their favoured areas, wound down the windows, and straight away we could hear the beautiful, liquid, fluted notes of one in the bushes. Even better, we looked across and saw it perched in a bush on the other side of the road. We just managed to get everyone onto it, before it moved into the back of the bush. We could still hear it singing and just about see it, before it dropped out the back and went quiet.
Given that they seemed to be singing, we decided to park up and explore. As we walked across the grassy slope from the nearby car park, a smart male Wheatear flew across in front of us. It landed not far away, so we got it in the scope for a better look.
Wheatear – this male flew across in front of us
We could just hear odd notes of a Nightingale singing in some bushes ahead of us, but when we got over there it seemed to be a bit subdued today. It gave brief snatches of song, but went quiet for long periods. Still, it was great to listen to.
At the same time, we had a look at some of the other birds around the bushes. A rather dull male Linnet was singing on a dead twig amongst some gorse – its song more than made up for its lack of colour. A Lesser Redpoll flew over and landed briefly in the back of the tree in front of us, where we could only just see it. A Green Woodpecker laughed from the trees. A Willow Warbler was flitting around in the bushes.
We were starting to think that we had seen all we would see of Nightingale today, and were just about to leave, when one started singing right in front of us, from deep in the bushes. It was singing more consistently, so we walked round to where we could see into the bushes. Suddenly it flew up and landed in a hawthorn, where we could see it. We got it in the scope – a lovely rusty orange above and pale, creamy below, with a large dark eye. Great stuff!
Nightingale – flew up and started singing in a hawthorn
After a minute or so, the Nightingale appeared to fly off and we turned to go, more than satisfied with our views. Then once again, it started singing and seemed to be just beyond the gorse bushes. Looking carefully round the other side, we found it perched up on a dead branch. It dropped down to the ground, hopping around looking for food, and periodically flew back up to the same dead branch. It preened there for a few seconds, spreading its bright rusty tail. Cracking views!
Nightingale – perched right out in the open for us
Very pleased with our luck, we moved on to Lakenheath Fen next. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked out onto the reserve, particularly more Reed Warblers have arrived now. We also heard lots of Sedge Warblers and a few Cetti’s Warblers, but they were keeping well down out of the wind. Three Blackcaps, two females and a male, were hopping about in a sallow, the male singing to the females. A Common Whitethroat performed a short song flight, before dropping back down into cover.
The view over New Fen was rather quiet today. There were plenty of commoner wildfowl – Greylag and Canada Geese, several Mallard with ducklings, plus Gadwall and Shoveler and a few Coot. But none of the things we might hope to see here. We were just about to move on when we bumped into the warden who told us about a Cuckoo showing well further down on the edge of Trial Wood. After a quick chat, we hurried along to see it – and see it we did!
The Cuckoo was just in the poplars beside the path. It had found a relatively sheltered spot from the wind here. As we watched it, it kept flying between branches or fluttering between trees, showing off each side in turn. Through the scope we had frame-filling views. Simply stunning!
Cuckoo – amazing views at Lakenheath Fen today
While we were watching the Cuckoo, a Bittern started booming behind us. The second time we heard it, we turned to listen to it and one of the group spotted a second Bittern flying up from the reedbed over towards West Wood. It circled round over New Fen, gaining height but clearly being buffeted by the wind as it got up above the height of the trees. It was obviously planning to fly across to the other side of the wood, but struggled to clear the treetops in the gusts.
Bittern – circled over New Fen, before flying off over West Wood
Also while we were standing by Trial Wood, we heard a Brambling call and just saw it flying away through the tops of the poplars. Most of the Bramblings which spent the winter here have already left, and it wasn’t a great winter for them in 2015-16 anyway, so this was a bit of a surprise. Then while we were watching the Cuckoo, one of the group spotted a small bird in the treetops behind and when we turned to look at it we found a flock of at least a dozen Bramblings working their way through the poplars, feeding on the buds. A particularly smart black-headed male was in the front, joined by a second male still with more extensive brown tips to its head feathers.
We eventually had to tear ourselves away from the Cuckoo and continue on across the reserve. We headed straight for Joist Fen, stopping on the way to listen to some Bearded Tits pinging from the reeds by the path. Needless to say, they were keeping well down out of sight today – Bearded Tits don’t like the wind.
There had been precious little raptor activity on the walk out, but from Joist Fen Viewpoint we finally saw our first Marsh Harrier of the day. Like buses, we then saw several, with the nearest pair in front of the viewpoint flying back and forth, the female taking nest material back with her, the male flashing smart silver-grey wings with black tips.
Marsh Harrier – there were several out over the reeds at Joist Fen
While we were scanning over the paddocks, a Hobby appeared, flying fast and low, skimming the tops of the reeds. It flashed orange trousers as it banked, before zooming off back over the Joist Fen reedbed. There were several Swifts passing overhead too, and a couple of Common Terns flew out over the reeds.
We didn’t have time to go any further today – unfortunately, we had to get back for an already slightly late lunch. The visitor centre provided a nice respite from the wind while we ate. Afterwards, we headed off into the Forest.
On the walk out through the trees, a Song Thrush was feeding on the wide verge and flew off ahead of us as we walked. We could hear a Goldcrest singing and a Treecreeper calling from the pines. But when we got to the clearing, we could feel the wind again – it seemed to have picked up, even compared to this morning. Despite the sun being out, it was cold in the wind.
A pair of Stonechats were feeding along the stump rows and from the young pine trees in between, and a Common Whitethroat flew out to join them. We could see a pair of Mistle Thrushes out on the short grass. A distant Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk circled up into the sky. But otherwise, it was unusually quiet here this afternoon. We had a quick walk round, but it seemed like we would be out of luck here, so we moved on.
We finished the day at Lynford Arboretum. We thought it might be more sheltered in the trees, and so it proved, but unfortunately it clouded over just as we arrived. We could hear a few Goldcrests singing from the firs, but not much else of note at first. We had almost completed a circuit of the Arboretum when it started to rain. Thankfully it was just a passing shower, but as we made a beeline for shelter, we heard a Firecrest calling. It was hard to see at first, but then it started singing and we were able to track it down.
The Firecrest did a little circuit through the trees and eventually flew up into a deciduous tree which was only just coming into leaf, where it was much easier to see. We watched it for several minutes as it flitted about in the branches, picking at the unfolding leaves, singing periodically. When it turned, we could see its head pattern – the golden crown stripe, bordered by bold black and white stripes either side. Eventually it disappeared up into the larches.
Firecrest – flitting about in the trees
Suddenly there were lots more other birds around. A Treecreeper appeared, climbing up a tree trunk. We stopped to watch a Coal Tit, and a pair of Marsh Tits appeared too. We could hear a Nuthatch calling. Several Siskin were zooming around in the treetops.
It was Firecrest we had come to see, so with the afternoon all but gone, we started to make our way home. This meant that we just had time to check up on the Stone Curlew again. It had barely moved from where we had seen it this morning, but this time it had turned round, side on. Much better views now. It was still remarkably well camouflaged but we could see the short, black-tipped yellow bill and, when it opened its eye briefly, the staring yellow iris. It was a fitting way to end the day, back where we had started it.