Tag Archives: Lakenheath Fen

22nd July 2018 – Scorching Summer Tour, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. We were heading down to the Brecks today. The weather has been getting progressively hotter, and today was the warmest of the days we were out. It was bright and sunny in the morning and, although it did cloud over a little in the afternoon, it was still hot and humid.

The Peregrine was back on the church tower again this morning, so once we had picked everyone up we took a short detour round to see it. It had just finished devouring its breakfast and was digesting, perched high on one of the stones protruding from the tower, dozing in the morning sunshine. We got the scope on it and had a fantastic, full-frame view.

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Peregrine – back on the church tower again this morning

It was such a treat to get so close views of a Peregrine, we eventually had to tear ourselves away to head off on the journey down to the Brecks.

Once we got into the north Brecks, we took a detour off the road to look for Stone Curlews. At the end of the breeding season they start to gather in larger flocks in favoured fields, and we hoped to find some today. We stopped to scan the field where they have been recently, but we couldn’t find any there this morning. Then we heard Stone Curlews calling and realised they were in the field the other side of the road.

There is a thick hedge the other side of the road and it is impossible to see into the field, so we walked up to try to find a gap from where we could view. Some of the Stone Curlews must have been close to the hedge, because they took off and flew round, over our heads and across the road to the field we had been scanning. Two swung round and dropped down in view, but the rest, at least another ten, flew out to the middle of the field. The ground slopes away here and they dropped in out of view.

Turning our attention to the two Stone Curlews which had dropped down where we could see them, we trained the scope on them and had a great look at them. We could see their staring yellow iris and short black-tipped yellow bill, very unlike a curlew. They are not members of the curlew family at all, just named for their curlew-like calls, but actually members of the thick-knee family.

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Stone Curlew – two landed in view in the field

One of the Stone Curlews sat down in the stony field and promptly all but disappeared – they are very well camouflaged! While we were watching them, we heard Tree Sparrows calling and looked across to see two land in a large bush out in the middle of the field. Through the scope, we could see the black spots in the middle of their white cheeks.

Our main destination for the day was to be Lakenheath Fen. Unfortunately, we had to take a big diversion to get there today. We hit a big traffic jam at Weeting, where the traffic had backed up trying to get into this weekend’s Weeting Steam Rally. The tailback was right through the village and almost back to the main road! The organisers really need to do something about their chaotic parking arrangements next year – they clearly could not cope with the number of cars arriving. The diversion did at least yield a Mistle Thrush on some wires by the road as we passed.

We eventually arrived at Lakenheath to find they had their own ‘bioblitz’ event on today. While we were arranging access permits, we had a quick look at the various creatures they had already gathered. Unfortunately they had not kept many of the most interesting moths from the moth traps, but we did have a look at the Poplar Hawkmoth and Garden Tiger moths which had been put onto one of the screens round the back of the visitor centre.

One of the group had wandered back towards the car park, and saw the first Bittern of the day. It was a distinctive female with an injured leg which hangs down in flight, known as ‘Gammyleg’. It had disappeared off upstream along the river towards Brandon Fen, away from the reserve.

We needed to limit the amount of walking for the group today, so we were granted a disabled permit and drove out to the disabled parking area by New Fen viewpoint. We walked up to the viewpoint and looked out over the reedbed. Apart from a few Coot, a Moorhen and a couple of Mallard, there was not much to see here today. It was already hot, and activity levels seemed to have dropped.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer – basking on the path

The number of dragonflies and damselflies here is starting to tail off now, but walking out along the bank on the south side of New Fen we still saw a good variety. There were lots of Brown Hawkers hawking over the reeds and an Emperor Dragonfly patrolled up and down the path, past us. One or two Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path and flew off ahead of us. A couple of rather worn Four-spotted Chasers perched on the reeds, but the Ruddy Darters were looking much smarter. Damselflies included Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselfly.

There were a few butterflies too – Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Large White. A Brimstone was feeding on some burdock flowers.

Brimstone

Brimstone – feeding on burdock

One or two Common Whitethroats darted out of the vegetation ahead of us and we saw a couple of Reed Warblers which disappeared into the reeds as we approached. The warden and one of his assistants were out in a boat, collecting things for the ‘bioblitz’, and flushed some Grey Herons from the reeds. When they had all taken to the air, sixteen birds were flying round together in a big flock! Three Little Egrets flew past, upstream along the river and a Green Sandpiper disappeared off that way too.

We hadn’t gone too far before we spotted the first Bittern for the rest of the group. It was rather distant, over the far side of New Fen. It flew across over the reeds and dropped down out of sight. A little further on, we turned to see another Bittern coming round the far corner of the wood back behind us, away in the distance. We watched as it headed steadily towards us.

When it got closer, we could see that it had a dangling leg – it was ‘Gammyleg’, the female Bittern one of the group had seen earlier. It flew in right past us and dropped down into the reeds a short distance ahead of us, giving us great flight views as it did so. It is feeding young at the moment, so had obviously been off along the river collecting food.

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Bittern – the bird known as ‘Gammyleg’ flying in over the reeds

We walked up to where the Bittern had seemed to go down and scanned the reeds, as much as we could see into them, but there was no sign of it. We hadn’t gone much further along here before we looked back to see ‘Gammyleg’ heading off again, back round the far corner of the wood, presumably back to where it had been feeding earlier.

There had been a family of Bitterns seen from Mere Hide in recent weeks, but they have not been seen for a few days. That much was immediately apparent also from the fact that we had no trouble getting into the hide. When the Bitterns were showing, it was impossible to get in, as the place was packed out with photographers taking up occupation of the place from dawn to dusk! We had a quick sit down and scan, before moving on.

The family of Great Crested Grebes is still on one of the pools by the path out to Joist Fen. The four juveniles are now pretty much fully grown – too big to ride on mum or dad’s back now. They still have stripy faces, which distinguishes them from the adults.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – an adult and one of the now fully grown juveniles

A little further on and a Red Kite appeared from beyond West Wood, flying in low over the river before circling up over the trees. As we got out to Joist Fen, we started to see more Marsh Harriers and there were several juveniles out from the viewpoint, indulging in a bit of flying practice over the reeds.

The Hobbys can be harder to find here at this time of year, but we did manage to locate one from the viewpoint. It was very distant though, circling up right at the back of Joist Fen. There wasn’t much else happening out here today though, so after a short rest we set off back. On the way, a Common Buzzard was circling over the corner of West Wood now.

Common Buzzard

Common Buzzard – circling up over West Wood

We could hear a Kingfisher calling from the poplars, but we couldn’t see it. It was getting quiet hot now, so we made our way back to the car and headed back to the visitor centre for lunch.

After lunch, we walked up to the Washland viewpoint. The water on here is evaporating fast now, which at least has the advantage of making it attractive to waders. There were quite a few Black-tailed Godwits feeding in the shallow water and a large flock of Lapwing on the mud at the edge. In with the latter, were three Curlew and an Oystercatcher too. A single Common Redshank was wading out in the middle. A few Common Terns were hawking around over the remaining water.

The temperature and timing, in the middle of the afternoon, was not really conducive for looking for passerines, but we headed off to Lynford Arboretum to try our luck. We could hear Siskin calling as we got out of the car and saw one flying off from the top of the larches as we walked down through the arboretum. A Nuthatch was calling from somewhere in the distance, but otherwise it was very quiet in the trees.

We walked down to the bridge and someone had put some seed out on one of the pillars. Several Chaffinches were busy feeding here, but nothing else. A Goldfinch came down to drink in the paddock just beyond. We decided to have a look round the lake.

The Little Grebes here have obviously had a successful breeding season – first we found a very advanced juvenile on its own, then an adult feeding a very well-grown juvenile under the over-hanging trees (we could hear its begging calls first), and finally we came across another pair with three very small juveniles.

Little Grebes

Little Grebes – this pair have three still very small juveniles

There was not much sign of any passerine activity down around the lake either, so we headed on round to the weir to see if we could find one of the Grey Wagtails. The water has largely stopped flowing out of the lake now, beyond a trickle, but as we walked in through the trees a Grey Wagtail flew off from the near bank and landed on an upturned wooden box out in the middle. We watched it bobbing its tail, before it flew back and started to feed along the far edge.

Looking back to the weir, we noticed some ripples in the water at the bottom and looked across to see a small mammal. It appeared to be bathing at first but when we looked more closely, we realised it was feeding, diving under the water. It was a Water Shrew – something we see very rarely. It surfaced with something in its mouth and hopped out onto the rocks, disappearing off to the bank. A few seconds later, it reappeared and ran down into the water again.

We stood and watched the Water Shrew feeding for several minutes – it was fascinating to observe one for an extended period, as normally all you see of them is one disappearing off in the water. We could see its long pointed nose, black fur contrasting with paler silver belly and quite a long tail. Eventually the Water Shrew disappeared into the rocks again and we decided to walk back.

When we got back to the bridge, activity seemed to have picked up a bit. The Chaffinches were still feeding on the seed on the pillar, but as we walked up we heard a Marsh Tit calling immediately behind them. It was flicking around in the trees just beyond, low down, hanging on the branches and picking at the underside of the leaves. A Treecreeper called and appeared from around the back on the trunk of the tree right beside us.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – looking for insects on the underside of the leaves

Walking back up through the middle of the arboretum, we came across a large tit flock. A Nuthatch was with them, in a tall birch tree. Unusually, it was feeding by hovering and trying to pick insects off the leaves – not something you see often. There were also Long-tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits.

The afternoon was getting on now and it was time to be heading back. On the way, we called in briefly at a clearing in the forest. There have been Tree Pipits breeding here, but there was no sign of them this afternoon. A male Yellowhammer appeared briefly in the top of a young oak tree, with food in its bill. Presumably it still has young in the nest nearby.

We had a quick walk to the edge of the clearing. Several birds flew out of the dense bracken and dropped back in further along. A mixed tit flock were feeding in here, possibly finding more food here in the cool, dark conditions, and with them were a couple of Blackcap and one or two Common Whitethroat.

Unfortunately, we were out of time and we had to head for home now. It had been an exciting three days with a great variety of birds and other wildlife, some of the best Norfolk has to offer in summer.

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29th June 2018 – Bespoke Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of three days of Private Tours today in Norfolk, some gentle days of general birding and other wildlife. It was our last day and we would be heading down to the Brecks. It was a lovely sunny day, though it was a little hot, particularly out of the light but fresh NE breeze.

With the sun out and the heat haze only likely to increase, we headed straight over to Weeting Heath first. As we walked down towards the West Hide, through the trees, we could hear a Blackcap singing. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us from the pines too. There were quite a few tits in the bushes and after a couple of Great Tits the next bird to appear in front of us was a Marsh Tit. There were Coal Tits singing in the tops of the pines too.

Just before we got to West Hide, we could hear Spotted Flycatchers calling in the trees, but it sounded like they were along the sunny edge and slightly further down from the hide. There is a family party here, two adults with their fledged first brood young. We scanned the trees, but it looked like we couldn’t see them from here. We decided to keep an ear out in case they moved closer, and in the meanwhile have a look from the hide.

Looking out across the grass, there was already quite a bit of heat haze building. The vegetation is very overgrown at the moment due to a lack of rabbits, which have been hit badly by disease. We scanned the heath but couldn’t see any sign of the Stone Curlews initially. We knew they were out there though – we had just seen them on the CCTV in the visitor centre! Eventually a Stone Curlew appeared out of the thick grass. We got it in the scope, and we could just about make it out.

The Spotted Flycatchers called from somewhere behind the hide, so we headed out for a quick look. One appeared overhead, on a branch, preening, but unfortunately by the time everyone had made it out of the hide it had moved off again and we could hear them calling still along the edge.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – we finally got good views of them in the trees by the hide

Thankfully, this time one of the Spotted Flycatchers had decided to perch on a dead branch in the sunshine where we could see it from the hide access ramp. We even managed to find an angle where we could get the scope on it.

Back in the hide, the Stone Curlew had moved and by changing our viewing angle, we got a much better look at it. It stood stock still, looking around, and after a couple of minutes a second Stone Curlew stood up out of the grass nearby. The first bird walked over to it and settled down where it had been sitting, promptly disappearing completely into the vegetation. Changeover time at the nest! The second Stone Curlew then walked off into the grass.

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Stone Curlews – the pair out in the grass

Having managed some better views of the Stone Curlews now, we had a gentle stroll down to the Woodland Hide at the far end. There were lots of tits on the feeders – Blue Tits and Great Tits, including lots of juveniles. Several came down to bathe too, and were joined by a Coal Tit, which was dwarfed by the Great Tit next to it.

There were lots of young Goldfinches coming and going too, but the stars of the show were the Yellowhammers. One male dropped in under the feeders to feed. Then another came down to the small pool in front of the hide for a bath.

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Yellowhammer – bathing in the pool in front of Woodland Hide

With a busy morning planned, we headed back to the car and on to Lakenheath Fen. With a limit to the amount of walking we could do, we asked at the visitor centre and were kindly granted disabled access to the reserve, which meant that we could drive up to New Fen. With the windows down, we could hear a Common Whitethroat singing in the sallows by the track and watched as it flew out, low over the reeds.

We sat on the benches at New Fen viewpoint, to gather our energy for the walk ahead. It was already hot, but at least there was a bit of a breeze. There was not much activity around the pool in front, apart from the families of Coot. A couple of Reed Warblers zipped around the edges of the reeds and a Bearded Tit shot across the water, unfortunately too quickly for anyone to get onto it.

Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – there were lots of dragonflies out today

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies along the bank which runs along the south side of New Fen. We managed to find a Variable Damselfly with the AzureCommon Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies on the corner. A couple of Brown Hawkers zoomed past, and an Emperor patrolled up and down the path. A Scarce Chaser perched up briefly and there were several Ruddy Darters and Black-tailed Skimmers out too.

We saw a few butterflies too – several Meadow Browns, plus one or two Ringlet, Large White, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. A Comma posed nicely in the reeds along the side of the path.

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Comma – posed nicely on the reeds by the path

The season for adult Cuckoos is almost at an end already, and this is the first time in recent weeks we haven’t heard one here. We did manage to see one though, which flew across high over the reeds from West Wood and disappeared off towards the viewpoint.

Finally, a Bittern put in an appearance, a long flight view in from the back of New Fen, straight across towards us, before dropping down into the reeds between us and the viewpoint. There were no other Bittern flights on our walk along the bank here today, despite the fact that they should be busy with feeding flights at the moment.

We stopped to admire a couple of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools in the reeds, an adult and an almost fully-grown stripy-headed juvenile. The adult was trying to doze, but the juvenile was swimming around it, calling quietly. A second adult Great Crested Grebe, presumably the other parent, had swum off a discrete distance and was sleeping in peace!

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Great Crested Grebes – an adult and juvenile, the parent trying to sleep

There has been a family of Bitterns showing well in front of Mere Hide this week, so we thought we would head over there for a sit down and see if we could catch up with them. We could barely get into the hide at first, with a photographer’s tripod right across the doorway! The benches were packed with photographers too, some of which had been there for over six and a half hours, leaving no room for anyone else. Eventually two of them left, making space for another couple who had been waiting ahead of us, and then after waiting a few minutes we managed to sit down too. We had obviously arrived just in time, as several were leaving for lunch!

There was no sign of the Bitterns unfortunately today – they were probably camera shy. Even the Kingfisher just did a brief flyby, zooming past over the reeds at the back, too quick for anyone to get onto. After resting here for a while, we decided to head back for lunch in the cool of the visitor centre.

After lunch, we headed back towards the Forest. It was hot and with limited scope for walking any distance now, we decided not to head to our usual clearing in the trees for Tree Pipit. Instead, we had a drive round through farmland first, checking out some fields.

We stopped by a recently sown maize strip. As we got out of the car, we could see an Oystercatcher standing in the middle. Scanning with binoculars, we then spotted two Stone Curlews along the far edge. We got the scope on them and looked again and realised there was another Stone Curlew further along the edge, and two more hiding in the grass just beyond, five in total. There was still quite a bit of heat haze, but the views were a bit better than we had enjoyed at Weeting earlier and we could make out a bit more detail.

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Stone Curlews – two of the five on a recently sown maize strip

As we drove on, we noticed a dove perched on the wires beside the road. Typically, we had a car right behind us, so we had to find somewhere to pull over and wait for them to pass. As we got out of the car we could see that it was a Turtle Dove, the first we have seen here in recent years. Unfortunately it flew before we could get the scope out and disappeared out into the field the other side of the road.

We headed round to another clearing in the Forest, which wouldn’t be as far to walk. There had been Tree Pipits here a few weeks ago, but we weren’t sure what they would be up to in the heat of the afternoon. It all looked pretty quiet as we got out of the car, apart from a Yellowhammer singing in one of the trees beside the path and a group of juvenile Swallows hawking for insects from the wires across the clearing.

As we walked down along the path, there were lots of butterflies fluttering around the vegetation either side, mainly Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Skippers. A Large Skipper perched nicely in the sun.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – perched nicely in the sun

The combination of the walk and the afternoon sun was proving too much, so we turned back. We were almost back to the car when we noticed a small bird in one of the trees by the path, perched on a dead branch. It was a Tree Pipit. It stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at it through the scope, then took off and flew out into the middle of the clearing.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – in a tree by the path, just as we got back to the car

That was a nice way to end the day, so we set off for home. We had enjoyed a very good three days out birdwatching and seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife, some of the best that Norfolk has to offer in summer.

24th June 2018 – Midsummer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Summer Tours today, our last day. It was glorious sunny weather, blue skies and hot! We headed down to the Brecks for the day.

It was already warming up nicely when we got down to the Brecks, so we headed straight over to Weeting Heath. We wanted to try to catch up with the Stone Curlews before the heat haze got too bad, which it often can be here in the middle of the day, when the birds can also be less active. The grass is very long too, as a consequence of a sharp decline in the rabbit population. We were therefore very pleased when we opened the flaps and saw a Stone Curlew out in the long grass.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – in the long grass at Weeting

The Stone Curlew was busy feeding, walking quickly, stopping, picking at the ground. We had a good look at it through the scopes, but it disappeared into the long grass after a couple of minutes.

A (Common) Curlew flew in from behind us, giving its beautiful bubbling song as it glided down and landed on the grass close to where the Stone Curlew had been. We were watching the Curlew when the Stone Curlew appeared out of the longer grass again. It eventually walked across and we had the two species side by side.

The Stone Curlew then walked off and stood where we could get a good look at it. The next thing we knew, a second Stone Curlew stood up right beside it, from where it had been hidden in the grass. It was obviously changeover time at the nest. The first Stone Curlew then settled down into the grass and the second bird walked off a short distance, where it stood preening for a few minutes.

When the second Stone Curlew walked off into the longer grass to feed, we took that as our cue to move on. There has been a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees by the hide here, but we couldn’t find them when we emerged. They have already fledged their first brood, so they have become more mobile. We decided to walk down to the hide at the west end to look at the feeders and see if we could find them on the way.

We heard a couple of Coal Tits high in the pines on the walk, and had a brief view of a Nuthatch up in the canopy of the trees. A Goldcrest showed a little better and a Treecreeper was calling too. There were plenty of birds around the feeders – lots of young Blue Tits and Great Tits. A couple of Yellowhammers were feeding on the ground below and one came in for a drink at the small pool. Another Nuthatch made a quick ‘smash and grab’ visit too.

On the walk back, as we got to the junction with the path to West Hide, we could hear the Spotted Flycatchers calling. We eventually had nice views of one or two of them when they perched where we could see them, although they could be hard to see up in the trees.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – eventually perched up nicely

Our next destination was Lakenheath Fen. As we came out of the visitor centre, a couple of photographers had their lenses fixed on one of the sallows by the pool just outside. A Kingfisher was perched up in the outside of the bush, half hidden in the leaves. It dived down into the pool and then flew up again back into the leaves, where we could just see it.

Thankfully, the next time the Kingfisher dropped, it flew back up and landed on one of the branches down in the water, right out in the open, where we could get a much better look at it.

Kingfisher

Kingfisher – fishing on the pool behind the visitor centre

As we walked out along the main path into the reserve, we could hear Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers singing. A Sedge Warbler perched up nicely in the top of a small sallow in the reeds. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us from the bushes further over. There were a few Common Whitethroats flitting around in the vegetation too.

When we got to New Fen Viewpoint, a flock of Gadwall flew over. We were just looking in the field guide to show why they were identifiable as Gadwall, when a Bittern was called by some of the other people there, flying up from the reeds. It was only a brief sighting, but we were too busy looking in the book! Not to worry, we should hopefully get another chance.

Two Hobbys were circling high over West Wood, way off in the distance, and a Marsh Harrier circled up to join them. An adult and an almost fully grown but still stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe were out on the pool below.

As we walked along the bank on the south side of New Fen, there were loads of dragonflies in the vegetation either side. We saw lots of Ruddy Darters and several Brown Hawkers out to day, as well as Four-spotted Chasers and Black-tailed Skimmers. There were one or two Banded Demoiselles along the path too. Looking carefully through all the Azure Damselflies we found a few Variable Damselflies and Red-eyed Damseflies in with them.

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselle – there were lots of dragonflies & damselflies out today

About half way along the bank, a couple ahead of us called to say they had found a Bittern. We walked up to them and they pointed it out, standing on the edge of the reeds. We had a great look at it through the scope. While we were watching it, a second Bittern flew back over the reeds. A Green Woodpecker flew past too.

The first Bittern stood on the edge of the reeds in the sun, preening and looking round, then walked a short distance and started to look for food, leaning over with its bill down close to the water. It snapped at something a couple of times, possibly insects on the water surface, before eventually walking back into the reeds.

Bittern

Bittern – standing on the edge of the reeds at New Fen

Now the Bittern floodgates opened! A little further down the path, we looked up along one of the channels cut through the reeds and saw another Bittern flying down low over the water, before turning and disappearing into the reeds on one side. As we got up almost to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted yet another one, flying in over the reeds. It appeared to drop down in front of the hide, so we hurried round.

Before we got to the hide, we scanned the edge of the reeds from the boardwalk and noticed some movement. There were two Bitterns. They started walking quickly along through some short sparse reeds on the edge – it almost looked like it was a race at one point! They made it to a patch of thicker reed and disappeared in, but then came back out onto the edge and stood half hidden. They looked slightly small and it turned out they were recent fledglings, not quite yet fully grown.

Bitterns

Bittern – two recent fledglings on the edge of the reeds

Having had such great views of the Bitterns from the boardwalk, we didn’t go into the hide, but headed on towards Joist Fen. We continue to scan over the reeds and we were about half way there when we spotted a bird flying beyond the Joist Fen viewpoint. It was yet another Bittern. It came in past the viewpoint, and continued on right past us and eventually landed in the reeds somewhere near Mere Hide. A very long feeding flight!

A Cuckoo was singing from somewhere deep in West Wood,  but we couldn’t see it. The family of Great Crested Grebes are still on one of the pools by the path, but the four young ones are well grown now. It looked like one of them was still keen to try to ride on its parent’s back though!

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the juveniles are well grown now

Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we stopped for a rest. There did not appear to be too much happening, but it was nice to have a sit down. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bushes close by – nice to hear them now, as their numbers have dropped sharply in East Anglia after the cold winter. There were a couple of Marsh Harriers circling in the distance too. Then yet another Bittern flew across over the reeds.

After resting out legs, we got up to walk back. As we did so, a Cuckoo flew past over the reeds and disappeared out towards the paddocks. We had heard a couple of Bearded Tits on the walk out, but they can be very hard to see here. As we walked along the path, we heard one call and turned to see a male fly up out of the reeds close in front of us and disappear off behind us.

Along the main path by New Fen, we looked up to see a Kestrel circling. Scanning the sky, we found a Hobby too, much further over and very high up. It gradually drifted our way and dropped a little lower and we watched it catching insects high overhead.

Hobby

Hobby – catching insects high overhead

There was one last addition to the day’s list here, when we were most of the way back. We finally found a couple of male Scarce Chaser dragonflies, perched up on the reeds by the path. Then it was back to the visitor centre for a rather later then planned lunch and another welcome rest after the long walk in the sun.

After lunch, we headed back into the Forest. We parked by a ride and walked into the pines. There were lots of butterflies buzzing around the Viper’s Bugloss, a mixture of Small and Essex Skippers. We had a closer look at them and even managed to see the key difference in the colour of the underside of their antennae!

Small Skipper

Small Skipper – with a pale underside to the antennae

It was very quiet when we got out to the clearing at the far end, but then it was the middle of the afternoon on the hottest day of the year so far! We found a male Yellowhammer perched up on one of the stump rows and, just behind it, a Stonechat was flycatching, but dropping back down out of view.

There has been a pair of Common Redstarts here and they have been feeding their recently fledged young in the last few days, so we went round to try to see them. It was all quiet where they have been though. We carried on a little further and noticed a bird fly up from the ground in the shade under a large oak tree. It headed straight up into the canopy, where we just managed to get a glimpse of a red tail. It was one of the Redstarts. Unfortunately it then stopped moving somewhere high in the canopy. We walked on a short way, and when we came back it did exactly the same thing again!

It was obviously too hot for much activity now. We walked back to the edge of the clearing, where all was very quiet. As we walked along the path though, we caught a distant snippet of a bird sub-singing. It sounded like a Tree Pipit, but as we stepped round the trees we noticed a Woodlark perched in the top of a young pine. A second Woodlark flew up from the ground at out feet and perched nearby where we could get a good look at it.

Woodlark

Woodlark – one of the pair in the clearing

Then the Tree Pipit flew up from right in front of us and landed in another small fir tree. It was carrying food in its bill so presumably has young to feed nearby. As we looked more closely we could see it was fitted with a combination of colour rings. It was an old friend, an individual we saw in pretty much exactly the same place last year. It seems to be very successful here as, according to the ringer, it was already feeding its second brood!

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – a colour-ringed individual we have seen here the last couple of years

It was time to start heading back now. It had been a very successful three days, with a great selection of our breeding birds, as well as insects and other wildlife.

6th June 2018 – Heath, Fen & Forest

A Private Tour today, down in the Brecks. It was a cloudy start but brightened up through the morning to blue skies and a lovely warm afternoon. A great day to be out birding.

With the risk of heat haze if the sun came out, we went straight to Weeting Heath this morning to see the Stone Curlews. As we got out of the car, a Treecreeper was singing in the car park. We made our way straight down to the West Hide where, as soon as we opened the flaps, we could see our first Stone Curlew.

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of several on show this morning

The grass here is very long at the moment – the rabbit population has dropped precipitously in recent years, which is proving to be a major issue. Despite this, we had good views of one adult Stone Curlew walking around in a more open patch not far in front of the hide.

A careful scan revealed three more Stone Curlews, hiding in the grass away to the right. As they moved across to where the grass isn’t so thick, we could see they were a family, two adults and a well grown juvenile. It has been a much better year in 2018 so far at Weeting, with two pairs currently raising three youngsters. We couldn’t see the second pair today – they seem to have disappeared off into the long grass at the moment!

A regular Eurasian Curlew was out in the grass too, flashing its long down-curved bill – and looking very different from its namesakes. The two are unrelated – Stone Curlew is named just for its call, which sounds rather like a Curlew, but it is actually a member of the Thick-knee family. Eurasian Thick-knee doesn’t have such a good ring to it!

Having enjoyed great views of the Stone Curlews, we decided to turn our attention to the trees. We had a look for the Spotted Flycatchers just outside the hide but couldn’t find them here today. As we walked up to the small hide overlooking the feeders at the west end, we could hear a Yellowhammer and a Mistle Thrush, both singing across the road.

There was a lot of activity on the feeders. Blue Tits and Great Tits were coming and going and a family of Marsh Tits was perched in the bushes just behind. A Nuthatch made several repeat visits to the seeds too. Several Goldfinches dropped into bathe in the pool in front of the hide.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – coming in regularly to the feeders

A quick walk back and down to the East Hide failed to reveal any Spotted Flycatchers that end either, though we did see a pair of Coal Tits high in the pines and a family of Long-tailed Tits which flitted quickly through the bushes. The Treecreeper finally gave itself up in the top of one of the pines too.

With a busy morning planned, we headed over to Lakenheath Fen next. A Brown Argus in front of the Visitor Centre was a nice start to our butterfly list. A male Reed Bunting came in to the table below the feeders the other side, where a Reed Warbler was singing from the reeds by the pool, the first of many we would hear today. A Common Whitethroat was singing from the sallows on the walk out, along with Blackcap and a Cetti’s Warbler which shouted at us from the reeds.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path. They were mostly Azure Damselflies and a few Blue-tailed Damselflies, but as we walked along, we kept a close eye to see if we could find any others. It didn’t take too long before we found a Variable Damselfly – when it settled, we could see its darker thorax with broken antehumeral stripes, and the distinctive black ‘goblet’ pattern on the segments at the base of its abdomen. A Hairy Dragonfly was patrolling in front of the trees here too.

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – among the many Azure Damselflies by the path

Continuing on to New Fen Viewpoint, we could hear a Cuckoo singing in the poplars. Rather than linger at the viewpoint itself, where there didn’t seem to be much happening at that moment, we took the path along the bank on the south side.

There were more dragonflies along here and one of the first we found was a smart male Scarce Chaser resting on a reed leaf. We had a good look at it – as well as the blue abdomen with a black tip, we could see the black bases to the wings. There were lots of Four-spotted Chasers along here too and several Red-eyed Damselflies.

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser – a male resting on a reed leaf

It wasn’t only insects on view along here though. A little further on, we spotted a Hobby flying quick and low, skimming the tops of the reeds. We stopped to watch it and it put on an impressive show, hawking back and forth in front of us, swooping low over the pools catching dragonflies, climbing up and then eating them on the wing.

The sun was starting to come out now and the Hobby gradually started to gain height. A second Hobby appeared even higher above it. However, rather than drift off, the first Hobby then came straight towards us and started to hunt higher over the reeds just in front of us, almost over our heads at times. Fantastic stuff!

Hobby

Hobby – hawking for insects almost over our heads

We were so transfixed by the Hobby, we almost missed a Bittern which flew across the channel in front of us. Thankfully we got a quick sight of it, before it then crashed into the reeds the other side and disappeared in. A Marsh Harrier drifted in over the reeds and dropped down over the back. There were Bearded Tits calling here too, but they remained stubbornly hidden in the reeds out of view.

Continuing on, we stopped to listen to two Cuckoos singing in West Wood. They were singing against each other and provided us with a great stereo performance. One was moving around in the poplars in front of us and eventually came closer to the near edge where we had a quick view of it flying between trees. A Black-tailed Skimmer was basking on the track.

We had a quick look in at Mere Hide, but it was rather full with photographers camped out hoping to get a look at one of the Bitterns which has been feeding here periodically. There was no sign of it, so we moved on. The pair of Great Crested Grebes with four stripy-headed juveniles was still on one of the pools by the path, though only one of the youngsters wanted a ride on its parent’s back this morning. One of the adults was busy finding food – catching damselflies above the water surface, to feed to its young.

Great Crested Grebes

Great Crested Grebes – the pair with four stripy-headed juveniles

Joist Fen Viewpoint provided a welcome rest for a few minutes. There were lots of Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings in the reeds here, appropriately enough! Several Marsh Harriers circled up, mostly some way over but a female drifted towards us and across the reeds in front. Three more Hobbys were feeding much higher now, off in the distance.

It was already one o’clock, so we needed to be getting back for lunch. Rather than just follow the main path, we decided to walk back along the bank on the south side of New Fen, hoping for a Kingfisher. As we got up onto the bank, someone there was just pointing out a bird to another couple and as we walked up they informed us that there was a Bittern showing.

We looked across to see the Bittern perched with its neck stretched up, half way up the reeds over below the edge of West Wood, trying to look just like a bunch of reeds. It stayed there for several minutes, giving us a chance to get a great look at it through the scope. The pale blue skin at the base of its bill shone in the sun.

Bittern

Bittern – perched up in the reeds at New Fen

The Bittern had a preen and a shake, and then set off over the reeds, flying right across to the other side before dropping back down into the reeds. We continued on our way back. A Kingfisher called and appeared briefly in a small tree out in the reeds, but flew up out of view before we could all get a look at it.

With the stop for the Bittern, we were rather later back than planned. We had to pop in to Brandon to pick up some food, and after battling with the traffic it was time for a rather late lunch. Santon Downham churchyard provided a convenient location close by to eat. A pair of Grey Wagtails were collecting insects on the roof of the church, presumably to take off to their hungry brood somewhere, presumably down at the river, and a couple Goldcrests were singing in the trees.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail – a pair were collecting insects on the church roof

After lunch, we set off to explore the Forest. Our first stop was rather quiet – we had a short walk along a ride to a clearing where Woodlarks breed, but it was hot and sunny now and everything seemed to be in hiding!

At our next stop, we were more successful. We walked along the edge of an army firing range – large swathes of the Brecks are used for battle training. Again, it seemed rather quiet at first. That was, until the heavy artillery started up just the other side of the fence! There were repeated volleys – Boom! Boom! – as the big guns fired and the air reverberated around us. Not great for trying to find birds you might think, but the Woodlarks were as surprised as we were and took off from the trees just the other side of the fence.

The artillery went on for ages and the Woodlarks wouldn’t settle again. They kept flying round, calling. Every time they landed, they were spooked by the next volley. The only benefit was that, eventually, they flew and landed on the fence in front of us. They stayed just long enough for us to get a good look at them in the scope, and then they were off again.

We decided to retreat. There were lots of butterflies in the grass along the path as we walked back, mostly Small Heath which fluttered up ahead of us. Another Brown Argus perched briefly on a flower to feed.

Small Heath

Small Heath – there were lots in the grass today

Even though it was still hot and sunny and in the mid afternoon lull, we decided to try our luck with a brief visit to Lynford Arboretum. We heard a couple of Siskins flying round calling over the pines as we walked in and a Stock Dove was whooping from the trees, but there was nothing of note in the garden of the cottages today and it was fairly quiet as we walked down towards the bridge.

Down at the bottom of the hill, some movement in the trees caught our attention and we turned to see a small bird swoop out from a branch, loop round and then land back on the branch again. It was a Spotted Flycatcher. We stopped to watch it for a while, hunting for insects from the trees in a small clearing on the edge of the wood.

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher – hunting for insects on the edge of the trees

While we were watching the Spotted Flycatcher, we caught a glimpse of a small bird flying up into the fir trees opposite. We walked up and found it feeding in one of the outer branches, a Goldcrest. A quick look round the lake produced lots of Common Blue Damselflies, a couple of Emperor Dragonflies and a Little Grebe hiding in the reeds, as well as the regular other wildfowl.

There was still time for one last stop before we were due to finish, so we headed back into the Forest. We parked up by a ride and walked in to a clearing. The Tree Pipit kept us waiting a tantalising couple of minutes before it gave in and started singing. It landed on the wires in its usual place and sang from there for a while – we had a great view of it through the scope here.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the wires again

A second Tree Pipit started singing behind us, from a young oak just the other side of the path. The two of them matched each other song for song for a while, until the first launched itself into the air and fluttered up singing, before parachuting down into the grass just across the path directly opposite the oak tree. The second Tree Pipit responded – not a full on song flight, but fluttered down singing to the ground nearby.

Unfortunately, given the height of the vegetation, we couldn’t see what went down, but after a couple of minutes the first Tree Pipit fluttered up singing again and parachuted back down onto the wires where it had been before. Territorial boundaries re-established? A smart male Yellowhammer was singing from the edge of the trees too.

It was a lovely way to end the day, listening to the Tree Pipits singing in the clearing. It had been another great day in the Brecks, so we set off for home.

3rd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of Early Summer Tours, our last day, and we would be heading down to the Brecks today. It was meant to be brighter with sunny intervals today, after the overnight mist burnt back to the coast, and it was eventually although it took a bit longer than forecast.

Our first stop was at Weeting Heath and we made our way straight out to the West Hide. As soon as we opened the flaps, we could see there were plenty of Stone Curlews on view – it was more a questions of how many! The closest birds were a pair with two well-grown juveniles. We had a good look at them through the scope. We could see their large eyes with a prominent yellow iris. The juvenile Stone Curlews were still slightly smaller than the adults and with less well-marked face patterns and wing bars.

Further over were four more adult Stone Curlews, presumably non-breeding birds, at least so far. Two of the birds appeared to be trying to pair up, bowing in display to each other. This had attracted the attention of the other two, who stood tall nearby. There was lots of running round and some calling too.

Stone Curlews

Stone Curlew – a pair bowing to each other while a third looks on

While we were watching the Stone Curlews, a Eurasian Curlew flew in calling and landed out on the grass with them. Stone Curlews are not really related to Curlews at all – just that their calls sound rather similar, which is why they got their name. They look very different too. A pair of Mistle Thrushes were lost in the long grass, but helpfully flew across in front of the hide.

As we came out of the hide, we noticed some movement high in the pines. A pair of Spotted Flycatchers were flying round in the trees, catching insects. They were high up and hard to follow at times. After a while they disappeared back into the pines and we lost track of them. There were also a couple of Coal Tits in the trees here, and we could hear a Treecreeper singing. We had a busy morning planned, so we couldn’t hang around here too long today.

We made our way on to Lakenheath Fen nest, which we wanted to explore before lunch. As we came out of the Visitor Centre, a Kingfisher flew from the reeds, out of sight just below the boardwalk. It headed off back across pool, a streak of electric blue catching the light. It landed briefly on the post at the back and appeared to have something in its bill. Unfortunately, it didn’t hang around and was straight off back over the reeds beyond.

As we walked out along the path, we could hear a Cuckoo singing. It flew out of the poplars ahead of us and out over the railway, the first of several we would see here today. There were Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler singing from the reeds beside the path. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us too. And a Common Whitethroat and several Blackcaps were singing in the trees.

From New Fen Viewpoint, we could see an adult Great Crested Grebe. A large stripy-headed juvenile swam out to join it, pestering it for food or a lift, with little success. There was not much else of note visible though, so after rest, we set off again.

As we walked along the bank, scanning the pools and the reeds, our first Bittern of the day flew up over the reeds in front of us. It flew across past us, before eventually dropping back down into the reeds behind us. A great start! We could hear another male Cuckoo singing further along and when we got there, we found it flying in and out of the sallows.

Cuckoo

Cuckoo – flying in and out of the bushes, singing

The male Cuckoo perched up nicely a couple of times, and seemed to be focusing its attention on one large sallow bush. Then we realised it was chasing a female Cuckoo which was hiding in there. The two of them emerged and chased each other in and out a couple of times, perched up briefly, and then headed away over the reeds.

It was starting to warm up, even if it was still cloudy. There were good numbers of dragonflies out now – lots of Four-spotted Chasers in the reeds by the path, occasionally flying up before returning to their favoured perch. In amongst them we found a couple of female Scarce Chasers too, lacking the four extra spots on their wings. Several Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the path, and kept flying off ahead of us before resettling further along. We saw a couple of Hairy Dragonflys and an Emperor here as well.

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser – there were lots of them in the reeds today

There was a nice selection of damselflies here too. A smart male Banded Demoiselle fluttered across the reeds in front of us. There were lots of Azure Damselflies in the vegetation by the path and looking carefully through a small selection of them we managed to find a Variable Damselfly with them. The vegetation also held plenty of Blue-tailed Damselflies and a few Red-eyed Damselflies too.

As we got to the junction with the path to Mere Hide, we spotted a Hobby coming fast and low over the reeds. It was after the dragonflies too. We watched it swooping back and forth, occasionally swooping up or skimming low just over the reeds, dropping down over the Mere Hide pool. We got a great look at it as it passed right in front of us a couple of times. Then it flew up and disappeared into the West Wood.

Hobby

Hobby – chasing dragonflies over the reeds in front of us

Continuing on up the path, we stopped to watch another pair of Great Crested Grebes on one of the pools. They had four juveniles, quite a bit smaller than the one we had seen earlier. The youngsters were chasing around after the adults, trying to hitch a ride. One adult Great Crested Grebe kept diving to get away from them, but the other eventually stopped preening and relented.

The juvenile Great Crested Grebes climbed up onto the adult’s back. It appeared there was only room for three though – we could see their heads poking out from under its wings, but the fourth juvenile swam round beside them.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe – three of the juveniles hitched a ride, but no room for the fourth

It was all action here, we didn’t know where to look. While we were watching the grebes, another Bittern flew towards us the other side of the path. We turned in good time to see it coming and watched as it passed by us just a short distance away. We had a great view of it, like a brown speckled heron, with a fatter neck.

From the photos we could see the Bittern was a ringed bird, probably the same one we also saw here in pretty much the same spot last year.

Bittern

Bittern – we had a great view as it flew right past us

There was a dapper male Reed Bunting singing on the other side of path, perched up on the top of a reed stem demanding our attention too. Eventually, we had to tear ourselves away from all the birds here and we continued on up to the Joist Fen Viewpoint.

From here, we could see several Marsh Harriers circling up over the reeds, and a couple of them perched in the sallows out in the middle. A Cetti’s Warbler shouted from the bush just beside us. We were just discussing how we would only see it if it flew out, when it did just that, flying right across in front of us to the elders the other side.

After a rest, we set off to walk back. We called in at Mere Hide on the way. There had been a Bittern on the edge of the pool earlier, but it had gone back into the reeds now. However, while we were there another Bittern flew across over the reeds in front of us and yet another one was booming in the reeds out to the left of the hide. Bitterns everywhere! There have been 10 booming males here this year, a record for the reserve. Not bad considering there were just 11 in the whole of the UK in 1997, at their lowest point.

It was just a quick stop in Mere Hide, as we had to get back for an already late lunch. The sun was out now, and it was getting quite hot as we walked back. It was nice and cool in the Visitor Centre, so we ate in there today. Most of the group could not resist the cold drinks from the fridge and the ice cream went down very well too!

After lunch, we made a quick visit to Lynford Arboretum. We were hoping for a few woodland birds to add to the list, but it was rather quiet here in the heat of the afternoon. We stopped by the gates to look into the walled garden and hear a Nuthatch calling. We looked up to see it in the pines at the back. It was carrying some food in its bill, and then dropped down to a nestbox on the wall, where a nestling’s head popped out to be fed.

Shortly after we had watched the young Nuthatch being fed, a Kestrel swooped low across the grass in front of us pursued by a couple of Swallows. It crashed onto the front of the nestbox and then sat on the top. It looked like it might have been after the Nuthatch nestlings, although without the adult there they were presumably not at the hole on the front. After sitting on the top of the box for a couple of minutes, the Kestrel flew off again, chased by the Swallows once more.

Kestrel

Kestrel – was it after the Nuthatch nestlings in the box below?

While we were watching all the action in the garden, we heard a Grey Wagtail flying over behind us. When we got back onto the path, it was standing in the middle just round the corner, back towards the road. It stood there for a few seconds preening, before flying off.

As we made our way down to the lake, we could hear several Siskins flying round high above the trees. A Goldcrest was calling in the firs down at the bottom of the hill and we had a nice view of it when it came out onto the branches on the edge. Another Nuthatch flew across the path and up into the trees where we could hear it piping.

Round on the lakeside path, the pair of Mute Swans had brought their two cygnets out of the water and the male would not let us pass. Eventually, he gave in to the pressure of us trying to walk on and led them back into the lake. A Little Grebe laughed from out on the water, and we saw one surface out on the lake among the lily pads. The walk back through the Arboretum was uneventful, apart from a Common Lizard which was basking on the path and scuttled off ahead of us.

There was one last target for the day – Tree Pipit. So we drove back into the forest and parked by the start of a ride. The walk in and round the first clearing was quiet, apart from a Garden Warbler singing from bushes. There were more butterflies out now in the sunshine – as well as several whites, we saw a couple of Orange Tips, one or two Painted Ladys, a few Common Blues and a Large Skipper.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – there were lots more butterflies out this afternoon

We walked on through the trees to a second clearing, and could immediately hear a Tree Pipit singing towards the back. As we made our way round to the other side we could see it song flighting, towering up singing and then parachuting back down to into the top of one of the trees. After one flight, the Tree Pipit landed on some wires, and we got it in the scope. We had a great view of it, even noting the strongly curved hind claw.

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing and song-flighting from the wires over a clearing

Another Tree Pipit started singing away in the distance. Then one of the group noticed a small bird flying across the clearing behind us, which landed on the top of a tall tree stump out in the middle. We got it in the scope and could see it was a Woodlark. When they aren’t singing they can be very hard to find here, so this was a very nice bonus. It perched for a while before dropping down into the tall grass below.

It was now time to start walking back. On the way, a small flash of colour sped past us, not right for any butterfly. It landed down in the grass briefly and we could see it was a Cream-spot Tiger moth, its black upperwings marked with bold creamy splodges. Then it was off again – revealing its bright red abdomen and yellow underwings. They are not a common moth and in Norfolk are found mainly in the Brecks.

It had been a very successful last stop, a great way to finish off the three days. We had seen some really good birds and some other interesting wildlife too.

19th March 2018 – Brecks & Fens

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks, but with a difference. We had a specific list of target species, which meant we would aim to spend the morning in the Brecks themselves and the afternoon at Lakenheath Fen and the surrounding area. After a frosty night, it was a lovely bright, clear, sunny day, but cold in the still blustery NE wind.

After an earlier than normal start, we headed out to look for Stone Curlews first. A few early birds have already arrived back and presumably must be regretting it! It had snowed a little yesterday and the fields were covered in a light dusting of snow this morning.

The first field we checked, where we had seen them a couple of days ago, was empty today, apart from a couple of Red-legged Partridges. We checked out the other field they favour and at first it appeared devoid of life too until somebody noticed two shapes huddled up tight against the hedge – the Stone Curlews. They were clearly trying to get out of the cold wind, despite the fact they were up to their knees in snow!

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of two sheltering from the wind in the snow this morning

The Stone Curlews walked out a short distance into the field, where we had a very good look at them through the scope, before they headed back in to the shelter of the hedge once more. Further over, out in the middle of the field, a pair of Grey Partridge were trying to hide in one of the wheel ruts.

Goshawk was another target for the day, but it was still a bit cold for them to be up. We drove round via a good site for them but a quick scan from the warmth of the car revealed very little aerial activity. There were several Fieldfares feeding on the ground out in the field nearby, along with a couple of Mistle Thrush and a few Chaffinches. We would come back later, when it had warmed up a little (relatively speaking!). In the meantime, we headed off to look for Woodlarks.

As we walked along the ride past the first clearing, there was quite a bit of snow covering the ground. It didn’t look especially promising. The second clearing we looked in was even worse. There is some farmland just beyond the forest here, and we figured they might have moved out to the fields to look for food, so we headed over that way.

As we walked past the third clearing towards the fields, we heard a Woodlark call and looked across to see two come up off the bare ground beyond. They flew over towards us and did a circuit of the clearing, calling to each other. The male twittered, but never really broke into full song. While one of them flew quickly back to the fields, the male Woodlark landed in the top of a small oak tree on the edge of the clearing, where he did start to sing rather half-heartedly.

 

We walked round to the oak tree for a closer look and got the Woodlark in the scope, getting a good look at it before he took off and flew away over the clearing and dropped down again onto the field beyond. Satisfied with what we had seen, we turned to go but we hadn’t got very far before a pair of Woodlarks flew in calling again. They circled round and landed only a short distance away from us, in a small patch in the clearing which was relatively free of lying snow.

Woodlark

Woodlark – a pair flew in and landed in a snow-free patch in the clearing

 

As we walked back to the car, it was still very cold in the wind but it felt like the sun was starting to get a bit more warmth to it, so we headed off to look for Goshawks. We hadn’t been there long before the first Common Buzzards started to appear, first one or two, then a group of three circled up behind.

Not too long afterwards, a Goshawk circled up too. It was rather distant, but through the scope we could see it was an adult, pale grey above and bright whitish below, a male by the looks of things. It didn’t gain much height as it circled, drifting slowly across and eventually dropping back down behind the trees. It wasn’t the best view, but at least we had seen a Goshawk. It was rather cold here standing out in the open, so we decided to head off and look for something else.

Willow Tit was the next species on the list. We drove round to a spot where some feeding tables have been set up in the hope of tempting them in. As we walked up the ride, a Redwing appeared in the trees by the path.

The feeding tables were well stocked with sunflower seeds and a steady stream of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits were coming in to take advantage, or flitting around in the pines nearby. A Marsh Tit appeared in the trees by the path – a bit too plain and grey compared to the one we were hoping for. We had nice views of a Nuthatch climbing down a tree trunk here too.

Coal Tit

Coal Tit – there were lots around the feeders today

 

We didn’t have to wait long before we heard a Willow Tit, a male singing deep in the plantation behind one the feeders. For a minute or so, it sang repeatedly, a series of loud, ringing ‘tseeooo’ notes, and it seemed like it might be working its way towards us. Then it went quiet. We scanned the edge of the trees in case it came out but about ten minutes later, we got two more ‘tseeooo’s from about the same place, and that was it.

It gradually became clear that was all we were going to get for a while. We were about to leave when we looked up and saw a raptor circling low over the trees – a Goshawk. It disappeared back over the trees but a couple of minutes later, we saw it fly across the ride further up, closely followed be a second Goshawk. We thought there was a good chance they might start to display, so we walked up to a spot where there was an opening in the trees.

When we got there, we could see one of the two Goshawks still up above the pines. It was hanging in the wind, not really displaying, but with its white undertail coverts puffed out. It was a much better view than the distant one we had seen earlier. It gradually drifted away and dropped down behind the trees again.

Goshawk

Goshawk – hanging in the wind, with its undertail coverts fluffed out

As we walked back, the two Goshawks appeared again, high over the ride. The male was displaying now, way up in the sky, flying with deep, exaggerated wingbeats, while the larger female circled below.

Apart from actually seeing a Willow Tit, we had found all our Brecks targets already, and had very good views of all the rest of them. We decided to head off and try something different – we could always swing back round here on our way back later.

Common Crane was next on the list, which meant a drive over into the edge of the Fens. We had a look round several of the places they like to feed and, after stopping to check through various Greylag and Canada Geese off in the distance, we spotted a lone Common Crane flying over the meadows. It dropped down behind an area of thick rushes, where it started to feed.

Common Crane

Common Crane – on its own today

There is usually a pair of Common Cranes here and they are rarely seen apart, so hopefully the fact that it was on its own may suggest that this pair are getting down to breeding already.

It was getting on to lunchtime now, so we made our way round to Lakenheath Fen next, where we stopped for a bite to eat. After lunch, we headed out towards the Washland viewpoint. There were lots of Reed Buntings around the feeders outside the visitor centre.

Great White Egret

Great White Egret – along the river from the Washland viewpoint

 

As we walked up onto the river bank at the Washland, the first bird we saw was a Great White Egret, a short distance away to the east along the river. Just behind it, a swan on the edge of the reeds turned out to be a lone Whooper Swan. They are not often on their own here and this one didn’t look entirely well, so perhaps it had been unable to follow the rest of the Whooper Swans back towards Iceland.

There were lots of ducks out on the Washland too, mainly Shoveler, Wigeon and Shelduck. A couple of small parties of Tufted Duck were down on the river, along with a few Teal.

The bird we had really hoped to see here was Water Pipit. There are usually quite a few along the river here, but they can be horribly elusive. Today, however, our luck was in as we quickly spotted one picking around one of the islands of rushes just below the viewpoint. It appeared to be in moult, gradually losing its streaked underparts before gaining the brighter pink breast of summer plumage.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – in the middle of moulting to summer plumage

Spoonbill is an unusual bird down here – much commoner up on the coast – so it was not one we had predicted as a possible today. However, following news that one was here yesterday, we had learnt at the visitor centre that it was still present today, along the river. We hadn’t ventured far from the Washland viewpoint, when we spotted a large white shape further downstream, feeding along the far bank. Through the scope, we could confirm it was the Spoonbill.

We walked up the bank until we were roughly opposite the Spoonbill and had a good look at it. We could see the yellow tip to its spoon-shaped bill, the mustard wash across its breast and a flowing crest blowing around in the wind, suggesting it was an adult.

Spoonbill

Spoonbill – on the river bank opposite New Fen

 

We were now opposite New Fen, so we cut back in onto the reserve. A pair of Gadwall and a couple of Little Grebe were the only new birds here. With out targets achieved so quickly, we decided not to walk out around the rest of the reserve and made our way back to the visitor centre.

Willow Tit was the only one of the species we had set out to see today which still eluded us, so we decided to head back over for one more go, on our way back to where we had started the day. When we arrived, we met a couple of people leaving who told us that it had just been singing and calling pretty constantly, but remained rather elusive.

Siskin

Siskin – had now joined the tits on the feeding table

 

We walked back up to the feeding stations, where a smart male Siskin had joined the tits down on the sunflower seeds. We stood and watched the comings and goings for a while, but it started to seem like we might be out of luck. Then we heard a Willow Tit calling in the plantation on the other side of the ride, a deep, nasal scolding. Once again, it sounded like it might be heading our way, so we stood and scanned the edge of the trees.

This time the Willow Tit did come out, but it flew from the tops of the pines of one side of the ride, right over our heads. It appeared to be dropping down towards one of the feeding tables, but then seemed to go down into the bushes beyond. We focused on the feeding table, expecting it to make a visit there, but we didn’t see it. The next thing we knew, it started singing from the pines behind.

The Willow Tit was not far into the plantation this time, so we followed the song and found ourselves standing below the tree where it was. It sang and sang for about 10 minutes, but even though we knew exactly which tree it was in, it was almost impossible to see. It was high in the top and not moving. Eventually, it started to move and we get a quick look at it when it came to the outer branches of the tree, before moving off and going quiet.

Perhaps not the best view ever of a Willow Tit, but at least we had seen it now. It meant we had completed the set, all the target species we had set out to find today. With long journeys back and after our early start, we decided to call it a day and head for home.

7th March 2018 – Winter Coast & Forest #2

Day 2 of two days of Private Tours today, and it was down to the Brecks for the day. We were originally forecast showers and brighter intervals, but this morning they changed their minds – a more organised band of rain was now expected. So it turned out, but at least it cleared through quickly and we even had a bit of brighter weather in the afternoon. As ever, it didn’t stop us getting out and seeing some really good birds!

One of the targets for the day was to be Goshawk, but the weather forecast was far from ideal now. We swung round first thing via one of the sites where we might hope to see them, but it was very damp, grey and misty. We decided to try for some of our other targets in the general area, so we could come back if the weather improved.

As we drove away, we noticed lots of thrushes, Fieldfares and Redwings in some low winter wheat. On the other side of the road, several Chaffinches were dropping down to feed in a weedy field. When we stopped to look through them, we noticed there were thrushes out here too. A single Mistle Thrush flew out to join them.

At least it wasn’t raining when we pulled up at the head of one of the rides leading into the Forest. Three Yellowhammers were sitting in the top of a small oak tree as we walked along the track. They flew off as we approached and landed in the top of another very tall tree out in the middle of a clearing.

We walked along the path around the edge of the clearing and, as we did so, we noticed a Woodlark flutter up from out in the middle and land in the top of the same tall tree. It wasn’t singing – perhaps not a surprise given the weather – but we had a nice view through the scope. This was the species we had come here to see, so it was good to get one under our belt.

Woodlark 1

Woodlark – showed well on the edge of the clearing

A little further along the path and we heard another Woodlark calling, in the edge of the clearing much closer to us. We stopped and scanned the ground and it flew up and landed a short distance back along the path. When we looked across where it had landed, there were now three Woodlarks together here. We walked back slowly and had a great view of them as they walked around in the low grass.

Two of the Woodlarks seemed to be following each other closely, while the third fed quietly nearby. The two were bobbing up and down nervously, calling. It looked like they might be two males, having a bit of a territorial dispute, while the female was busy feeding – the third bird looked a little duller coloured.  Eventually, one of the two Woodlarks flew up in one direction, where a fourth bird called in response, and the pair flew off the other way.

Woodlark 2

Woodlarks – these two were following each other, bobbing and calling

Having had great views of the Woodlarks, we headed off to another ride through the Forest to look for Willow Tits, while we waited for the weather to brighten up. As we walked in through the trees, it was rather quiet initially but when we got to one of the feeding stations put out for them on the edge of the pines, there was a lot more activity. A steady stream of birds were coming and going.

As we stood and watched for a while, we saw a very good selection of tits – lots of Coal Tits, Blue Tits and Great Tits, and several Marsh Tits. A family of Long-tailed Tits passed through the trees overhead. A Nuthatch came in to grab some sunflower seeds too. The Willow Tits here don’t seem to visit the feeding tables very often, but they can often be heard calling and singing in the vicinity. Unfortunately, in the cold grey weather there was very little vocal activity from any of the birds today.

Then it started to rain. We decided to head back to the car and go off to try something else instead. With no sign of the weather improving, we headed over to look for one of our other targets for the day, Common Crane. As we drove west towards Lakenheath, the sky seemed to brighten and the rain started to ease again.

Given the weather, we decided to drive round the area and try to find the Cranes feeding in the fields first, rather than walk out across the road. As we checked out some of the favoured spots, a Kingfisher perched on the edge of a drainage ditch by the road was a welcome sight. A Great White Egret out in the middle of a field took off as we pulled up and flapped away lazily, dropping down out of view.

Scanning the rushy meadows carefully, we found a pair of Cranes out in one of the fields. The rain had stopped now and they were busy preening, presumably drying themselves out. For such tall birds, they are remarkably inconspicuous on the ground, but when they stretched up we could see their black and white heads and long necks.

Cranes

Common Crane – we found this pair drying out in a rushy meadow

With the weather improving and our main target here achieved, we headed round to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen for a quick look out at the Washland. There were lots of Reed Buntings on the feeders, but they flew off into the bushes as soon as we came outside. As we walked down the path towards the river, the sun came out and it was lovely and warm as we climbed up onto the bank.

The water levels here are not surprisingly high at the moment – lots of water for wildfowl. A quick look at a party of five swans over the back of the pool confirmed they were Whooper Swans – we could see their wedge-shaped bills with a long tongue of yellow stretching down to a point.

Whooper Swans

Whooper Swans – a party of five on the Washes

There were plenty of ducks on here too – Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Teal and Shelduck. This is always a good spot for Garganey in spring and with the very first birds already arriving in the country in recent days we had a careful scan just in case. There was no sign of one today, but surely it is just a matter of a week or so, if the weather continues to warm up. Lots of Tufted Ducks were diving on the river.

The only egret we could see at first was a Little Egret tucked down in the reeds on the far side of the river. There are normally Great White Egrets here too, and we eventually managed to find one in the distance away downstream.

A Water Pipit had flown off calling as we walked up onto the bank and after a while what was presumably the same bird flew back past us. Another one flew up from the thick vegetation below the bank as it called and landed a little further along. We had a quick look for it, but with the water levels high they were feeding in the thicker rushes today.

With the weather now warming up nicely, we decided to have another go for Goshawks while we had our lunch. Unfortunately, it proved to be just a transitory window of brightness and it clouded over again as we drove back into the Forest. At least it was dry now though.

As we ate our sandwiches, we scanned the trees. There were a few raptors up from time to time. The Common Buzzards were spiraling up in little groups, looking for thermals to gain height, although they never seemed to gain any great elevation. At one point, we had eight in the air circling together. A Red Kite appeared behind us in the distance, and a Sparrowhawk was displaying a long way off too. A Kestrel perched in the top of a fir tree.

Common Buzzards

Common Buzzards – circling up trying to find a thermal

After a while, we did manage to spot a Goshawk. It too was some way off, but it circled up and started displaying, flying across with deep, exaggerated wingbeats. It dropped down behind the trees, but we guessed it was still in the area as the Woodpigeons over that way scattered in alarm. A short while later, what was presumably the same Goshawk circled up and displayed for a couple of minutes more.

The forecast had indicated it might brighten up early in the afternoon, but there was no sign of that happening yet. There were a few other birds here to distract us. Lots of Chaffinches were feeding under the trees and when they flew out a Brambling appeared with them and landed in a small oak in front of us.  A Treecreeper appeared too, working its way up and down the trunks, and a flock of Fieldfares flew over, ‘tchack, tchacking’ loudly.

At least we had managed to see a Goshawk, despite the weather. We decided to head down to Lynford Arboretum for the rest of the afternoon. As we walked in along the path, we could hear a Siskin singing high in the larches. There were lots of tits covering the cage of fatballs looking in from the gate, and plenty of Chaffinches down in the leaf litter below.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit – Lynford is a great place to see – and photograph – tits up close

There was no food out down at the bridge when we arrived, but fortunately we had brought supplies with us today. Only a few seconds after putting out some sunflower seeds, the hordes began to descend. At first, the Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits appeared, quickly joined by a couple of Marsh Tits.

Marsh Tit

Marsh Tit – quickly came in to take advantage of the sunflower seeds

They were then joined by a couple of Nuthatches, which made repeated forays in from the trees, grabbing a beakful of seeds each time, presumably stashing them somewhere away in the wood. We stopped and spent a while photographing all the birds coming in to feed.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch – one of two which came in repeatedly to the seeds we put out

There had been a lot of disturbance out over the paddocks when we arrived, with military helicopters repeatedly circling out very low from the battle area. We had a walk down to see if we could find any Hawfinches feeding there, but there was no sign of them this afternoon. There were fewer other finches feeding under the trees than normal too, with just one Brambling today and a 2-3 each of Greenfinch and Chaffinch.

The flock of Redwings had been in the trees just beyond the bridge when we arrived, but had now flown back out into the paddocks, along with a couple of Mistle Thrushes. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was chipping away at a branch low down in the hornbeams.

While we were standing and looking at the trees in the paddocks, we heard some distant yelping, honking noises. It was hard to work out where they were coming from at first, but then we realised they were swans calling and a large flock of 58 came over the trees at the back. They flew straight towards us over the paddocks and over our heads, Bewick’s Swans heading off east.

Bewick's Swans

Bewick’s Swans – some of the 58 which flew over us this afternoon

Bewick’s Swans are on the move at the moment, leaving their wintering grounds at Welney and Slimbridge and heading back to the continent on their way back towards their breeding grounds in Russia. It was great to see and hear them as they passed over us. It was quite late in the day and they were flying rather low, so perhaps they were planning to stop off somewhere in east Norfolk for the night.

We still hadn’t seen any Hawfinches though, so we walked further up along the edge of the paddocks, scanning the trees. The sky had cleared and the sun was out now. Suddenly we noticed two birds fly in and land in the top of a fir tree at the back – two Hawfinches. They were silhouetted against the light, but we assumed they would sit in the tops for a while in the late afternoon sunshine. We walked round to where we might get a better view of them, but by the time we got there they had dropped down out of sight.

We waited a while, scanning the trees, and it wasn’t long before another Hawfinch appeared in the tops. From where we were standing, we had a much better look at this one, catching the sun. We could see its enormous bill, bright chestnut plumage, and white tip to the tail. We had a good look at it through the scope, a cracking male, but when we tried to reposition ourselves for a closer look it too had dropped down into the trees.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch – a smart male perched up in the late afternoon sun

We still wanted to have a quick look at the gravel pits, so we decided to make our way back. At the bridge, the sunflower seeds we had put out had already all gone! As we walked up towards the pits, a Green Woodpecker laughed and flew across behind us. We had received a message to say that there was a pair of Goosander on the pits this afternoon and when we arrived we immediately spotted one, a redhead, resting on one of the platforms.

Goosander

Goosander – this redhead was resting on one of the platforms

There was no sign of the male Goosander though at first, but after scanning from the hide for a few seconds, he appeared from behind the trees at the back, accompanied by another female. There was a single male Goldeneye on here too, and three further drakes on the other pit.

It was getting late now and we had to be back, so we made our way back to the car. As we got to the car park, a Firecrest was calling from somewhere high in the fir trees, although it proved difficult to see before it went quiet. That would have been a nice way to end, but it was starting to get dark as we drove back and the return journey added no less than 4 Barn Owls and a couple of Woodcock zipping past in the dusk. Then it was back home for tea (and medals?!).