Tag Archives: Suffolk

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.


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.


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 – 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.


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.

19th Dec 2017 – Border Crossing

Not a tour today, but a short expedition (with our cameras) over the border into Suffolk to catch up with a couple of good birds which have been showing well there in recent days. It was a glorious, sunny winter’s day – perfect weather to be out at this time of year, particularly after a few days in the office catching up on admin!

First stop was at Oulton Broad in Lowestoft. Just a couple of seconds after we pulled up in the car park, the Great Northern Diver surfaced. It was diving by the boats over the other side of the bridge at first, but quickly started to make its way towards us and then spent a few minutes just off the quay where we were standing. At one point, it was only about 5 metres away. These are stunning birds, normally seen at a distance out to sea, so it was great to see it so close.

Great Northern Diver 1

Great Northern Diver 2

Great Northern Diver 4

Great Northern Diver 3Great Northern Diver – showing very well at Oulton Broad

We watched the Great Northern Diver fishing for an hour or so. It disappeared round beyond some boats for a while, then made its way back to the water in front of the quay again. We didn’t see it catch very much for all its efforts. At one point it surfaced with what appeared to be a small shrimp. On previous days it has been seen catching crabs here.

Great Northern Diver 5Great Northern Diver – with what appears to be a small shrimp

Eventually the Great Northern Diver started to work its way out into the middle of Oulton Broad, resurfacing further away after each dive. We decided to continue on further into deepest Suffolk!

Our next stop was Hazlewood Common, on the edge of the Alde estuary on the outskirts of Aldeburgh. There has been a flock of Redpolls feeding in the weeds on an overgrown parsnip field here in recent weeks. As we walked down the track, a couple of Lesser Redpolls were hopping around on the ground where a photographer had been putting seed out to try to tempt them down.

We joined the small group of people standing on the edge of the field. Most of the Redpolls were feeding out in the field, but after a few minutes they flew up and circled round before landing in the hedge. It wasn’t long before we noticed a strikingly pale bird in the hedge with the others – it was the Arctic Redpoll we had come here to see.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll 1

Coues's Arctic Redpoll 2

Coues's Arctic Redpoll 3Coues’s Arctic Redpoll – strikingly pale compared to the Lesser Redpolls

We spent some time watching the Redpolls here. The birds would fly back down into the field to feed and they fly up again, sometimes up into the taller trees back towards the road, sometimes into the bushes further down, but most often into the hedge close to where we were standing.

Over the next hour or so, we were treated to some great close-up views of the Arctic Redpoll. At one point, it perched up in the top of the hedge preening, which gave us a chance to get a good look at its white rump with a large unstreaked section in the middle, one of the defining characteristics of Arctic Redpoll.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll 4

Coues's Arctic Redpoll 5Coues’s Arctic Redpoll – showing off its largely unstreaked white rump

Arctic Redpoll is divided into two subspecies, exilipes which breeds widely in northern Eurasia and North America and hornemanni which breeds in Greenland and neighbouring parts of Canada. This bird is an exilipes, also known as Coues’s Arctic Redpoll. Apparently, according to historians, it’s first name should properly be pronounced ‘cows’ after its namesake, Elliot Coues, a 19th century American army surgeon and ornithologist. This is the correct pronunciation according to his descendants, but there is even some question over how he would originally have pronounced his name! A similar issue arises in his native US over Coues white-tailed deer, which is still widely pronounced as in ‘coos’. We didn’t worry too much over the pronunciation, and just enjoyed the Redpolls!

As well as all the Arctic Redpoll, there were 20+ Lesser Redpolls and at least two Mealy Redpolls in the flock. Birds were coming and going though, and the flock was not always (or ever?) altogether. There were some nice Lesser Redpolls, including a couple of pink-breasted males.

Lesser Redpoll Suffolk 2017-12-19_2Lesser Redpoll – a smart pink-breasted male

Lesser Redpoll Suffolk 2017-12-19_3Lesser Redpoll – a more typical small, brown Lesser

The Mealy Redpolls did not pose for photos but we did at one point have all three (sub)species of Redpoll in the scope together, when they flew up to preen in the top of one of the tall trees, Coues’s Arctic Redpoll, Mealy Redpoll and Lesser Redpoll. A very interesting and useful opportunity for comparison.

Unfortunately, the days are short at this time of year and after a rather leisurely start this morning and a good session with both the Great Northern Diver and the Redpolls, the light was now starting to go. It was time to head for home.

25th June 2017 – Summer Weekend, Day 2

The second day of a weekend of Summer birding, looking for some of our scarcer breeding birds, as well as the more regular species we can see here at this time of year. It was mostly cloudy but pleasantly warm and bright, and we managed for the most part to dodge the showers in the afternoon, at least until we had finished for the day.

On the drive down to the Brecks, we saw several Red Kites today, hanging in the air by the road. We took a meandering route, looking for Stone Curlews and other birds on the way down. The pig fields in the northern Brecks were full of Rooks, Jackdaws and gulls. We stopped to look through a particularly large flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and were rewarded with a single adult Yellow-legged Gull with them – larger, bulkier and with a much paler grey back and custard yellow legs.

The first couple of fields where we looked for Stone Curlew, we drew a blank. The vegetation is getting very tall now and the birds are getting much harder to see. But on our third stop, we found one Stone Curlew out in the open on rather bare and stony ground. Even though we remained at some considerable distance, it was a little nervous at first, running in a couple of short bursts across towards the edge of the field. We stood still behind the car and it quickly settled down, standing and preening.

Stone Curlew

In the end, we had to tear ourselves away and left the Stone Curlew still standing out in the open in the field. With one of our main target species for the day already in the bag, we decided to head straight over to Lakenheath Fen next.

As we walked out onto the reserve at Lakenheath, we could hear a Cetti’s Warbler shouting from the bushes. There were lots of Reed Warblers feeding in the reeds and weedy vegetation by the path. There were lots of butterflies too – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a smart Large Skipper.

Large SkipperLarge Skipper – on the walk out by the main path

We stopped at New Fen Viewpoint for a scan across the reeds. There were just a few Coots on the pool today, adults and juveniles of varying ages. A Common Tern flew in and started hovering out over the water. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across, and we saw a brief Hobby which was chasing a Magpie over the back of the reeds. A very distant pair of Kestrels circled over West Wood.

A Cuckoo was singing from the poplars as we walked out and, while we stood at the viewpoint, one came out of the trees behind us and flew out across over the reeds. It disappeared into the poplars along the other side. There were several Reed Warblers zipping about in the reeds around the water.

There is only one pair of Common Cranes breeding here this year and they are not in an accessible part of the reserve, so we had assumed we would not see any here today. We had been told by the warden in the visitor centre that six Cranes had been reported earlier, but as they had been flying around we were not sure if they had gone. At this point however they circled up over West Wood, and we watched as they circled across to the river and started drifting east.

Common Crane 1Common Crane – six flew over New Fen while we were there today

It looked like the Cranes would continue east over the river but when they got level with us they turned, and started coming straight towards us over edge of trees. They were not far away when they finally banked over the wood and started to circle up, before drifting back east. A real bonus!

Common Crane 2Common Crane – four of the six circling over East Wood

Continuing out along the main path, we stopped from time to time to look at the various dragonflies. These included good numbers of Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters now, although still comparatively few mature red males of the latter species, plus a few Brown Hawkers and plenty of Four-Spotted Chasers still.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – a maturing male, gradually turning red

There was an excellent selection of blue damselflies here too – including several of the regular Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies. The highlight was a single Variable Damselfly – a subtly marked one, with rather full blue antehumeral stripes.

Variable DamselflyVariable Damselfly – with rather complete black antehumeral stripes

Another, this time avian, highlight was the Great Crested Grebe on one of the pools by path near West Wood. On closer inspection, we could see it was carrying two small, stripy juvenile grebes on its back. We could just see their black and white heads sticking out from their parent’s feathers. Why swim when you can ride in comfort!

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – with two juveniles riding on its back

When we got out to Joist Fen Viewpoint, we sat down to rest after the walk out and had a look over the reeds in front. There were several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reedbed and lots of Reed Warblers around the pool in front. A Hobby shot across low over the reeds, giving us much better views than we had of the one earlier.

We had seen a pair of Bearded Tits in the edge of the reeds just as we approached the Joist Fen Viewpoint, but they had flown up and over the bank ahead of us. Sitting on the benches we found ourselves watching non-stop Bearded Tit action. Birds were zipping back and forth over the pool and feeding low around the base of the reeds on the edge of the water.

One pair of Bearded Tits, possibly the one we had seen flying over this way on the way out, was feeding some juveniles hidden down in the reeds right in front of us. The youngsters would occasionally perch up in the reeds begging when one of the adults returned. We had great views of them.

Bearded TitBearded Tit – great views of adults feeding young in front of the viewpoint

This is a great time of year to see Bitterns at Lakenheath Fen, with adults busy feeding growing young in the nest, and so flying back and forth from their favoured feeding areas regularly. But they kept us waiting today. We had one eye on the clock, aiming to get back for lunch, and time was ticking. There was just one tantalising glimpse, which was too quick for anyone to get onto. Eventually, we had nice views when a Bittern flew out of the bushes beside the viewpoint and away across the reeds in front of us, before dropping down into the vegetation. It was perhaps not the best view of Bittern we have had here, but it was good enough and would have to do as we needed to get back.

It seems Bitterns are like buses. Having had to wait to see the first at Joist Fen, we were walking back when one flew up from the reeds in front of us, right next to the path, flushed by someone walking along the path towards us. It was very close, and we had a fantastic look at it as it flew out across the pool, turning to fly past us before dropping back into the reeds. As if that wasn’t good enough, as we were walking past Mere Hide, another Bittern flew towards us low over the reeds beside the path, and carried on straight past us. Fantastic views!

BitternBittern – we were treated to fantastic views of two on the walk back

With a spring in our step, we walked back to the visitor centre, for a later than planned lunch outside at the picnic tables. After lunch, we had a quick look at the Washland. It is getting rather dry now, but still we managed to add a few waders to the day’s list – Lapwings, Oystercatchers, two Little Ringed Plovers, and a single Redshank. There were a few Mallard and Gadwall with ducklings, and a couple of Common Terns too.

We drove back to Thetford Forest for the rest of the afternoon, to try to catch up with some woodland birds. The little clump of trees where the male Redstart was singing a couple of weeks ago is now quiet. However, as we walked round into the clearing, we caught a glimpse of a Woodlark in the corner drop down into the grass. We walked round there to try to get a closer look.

As we made our way over, a Tree Pipit started singing. We watched as it fluttered up and then parachuted down across in front of us, landing again in the back of a large hawthorn bush. We could just see bits of it in the scope. Then, a second Tree Pipit flew over calling, and dropped into the top of another bush further back. This one was out in the open and facing us, so we got a much better look at it in the scope, although it was rather distant.

Carrying on around the clearing, we flushed a Woodlark from the long grass beside the path, possibly the one we had seen earlier. It flew round past us, showing off its short tail, and landed in a nearby pine tree briefly. We got a good look through binoculars, but it dropped down into the thicker branches before we could get it in the scope. A little further on along the path, we flushed another three Woodlarks from the grass, presumably a family party.

Continuing up to the far end of the clearing, we could hear a Tree Pipit singing again. We didn’t see where it came from, but we looked round to see it fly up into the edge of the pines and land on a branch. We got it in the scope and had a proper look at it, much closer this time. It had started spitting with rain as we walked round, and now it started to rain harder. It was still only light, but we made our way quickly back to the car just in case.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – this one perched up nicely for us in the trees

Thankfully the rain stopped almost immediately, as we drove round to Lynford Arboretum for the last hour of the day. We had already seen all our main target species, but we hoped we might be able to catch up with a few commoner woodland species here for our trip list.

As we walked across the road and into the Aboretum, we could hear a Grey Wagtail calling as it flew over the trees above our head, but we couldn’t see it. Several Goldcrests were singing from the fir trees. We stopped to watch a pair of Treecreepers, chasing each other around the trunk of a tree just before the gates to the new cottages. Suddenly a Spotted Flycatcher appeared in the same tree right next to them.

Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher – showed really well as we walked in to the Arboretum

We got a great look at it, but the Spotted Flycatcher quickly flicked back over the other side of the garden wall behind. We walked up to the gates and could see it flitting around the roofs of the cottages. They are very subtle but very smart birds, and full of character. Spotted Flycatchers are getting much scarcer now, so it is always a pleasure to see one, especially as well as this.

Continuing on along the path, we stopped to admire the new wildflower meadow. It is looking really good this year, a riot of colour, and chock full of insects and butterflies. Several Emperor Dragonflies were hawking around over the vegetation. A female Kestrel was perched on a telegraph post in the field, and kept dropping down into the flowers, presumably after something tasty it had seen.

We had only gone a little further when we heard a bird calling from the trees across the field. It was a Hawfinch. We hurried along to a point from where we could scan over the trees and found it perched in the top of a fir tree. We all got a look at it through binoculars, but unfortunately it dropped down before we could get the scope onto it. We walked in along the path where it seemed to drop, but we couldn’t find it again. Hawfinches are regular here in the winter but are as rare as hens’ teeth here in the summer, and difficult to see when there are leaves on the trees too, so this was a real and most unexpected bonus!

Down over the bridge, we too the path along the side of the lake. There were a few tits in the trees and Swallows hawking for insects low over the paddocks. A Little Grebe was diving among the lily pads on the lake. As we turned to walk back, we spotted a juvenile Grey Wagtail lurking on the mud on the edge of the island.

It had been a very productive stop at Lynford and it made a really nice way to end the day and the weekend. We walked back up to the car – arriving just in time, as a heavy shower blew in. Our luck had certainly been in today!

22nd June 2017 – Summer Brecks

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. After the recent hot weather, it finally broke today. But although we dodged the thunder storms successfully, it was rather cool and windy afterwards, through the afternoon.

On our way down, we stopped off first at Weeting Heath. We were immediately rewarded with lovely views of a Stone Curlew feeding in the long grass in front of the hide. It was quite active, running backwards and forwards, looking down at the ground for food and occasionally pecking at something. A careful scan revealed a second Stone Curlew, sat down hidden in the vegetation – we could just see the back of its head! A Mistle Thrush was hopping around on the shorter grass in front of the hide too.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – showing well at Weeting today

One of the targets for the day was to see summer warblers, so we made our way over to another site where we hoped we might find some. We were duly rewarded with a nice selection. Garden Warbler was a particularly sought after species and we found at least two pairs, one of the males singing briefly. A subtle species, it was good to get a proper look at them, as they can be rather skulking.

Garden WarblerGarden Warbler – we got good views of this species today

We also heard and saw several other species here – Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were all singing and perched around in the bushes. Only Lesser Whitethroat evaded us here – they are present, but probably busy with breeding at the moment and consequently silent and hiding.

This is also a good spot for Nightingale. They were rather quiet at first – it is not the best time of the year to look for them – but we eventually heard one singing. We followed the sound and saw it perched up briefly in a hawthorn. It took a while to get everyone onto it, but thankfully came out onto the same branch again for a second. Then it dropped down out of view. As we continued on round, we heard another Nightingale singing further over and one calling nearby, sounding rather like a frog croaking.

There were a few other birds here too. We flushed several Linnets from the grass and bushes as we walked round. A female Greenfinch flew up in front of us and landed on some brambles, carrying some moss in its bill, presumably busy nest building nearby. We heard a couple of Yellowhammers singing and eventually got a look at one perched on some overhead wires.

GreenfinchGreenfinch – this female was probably nest building nearby

We had heard thunder rumbling and dark clouds starting to gather. The lightning when it started was quite dramatic but thankfully some distance away. Finally it started to spit with rain, so we made our way quickly back to the car. We arrived just in time, as the heavens opened.

The rain had stopped by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, but it was still cloudy and rather cooler than it had been earlier. We headed straight out onto the reserve, with Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers, and Common Whitethroats all singing by the path and showing well. In contrast, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted from deep in the bushes.

There were a few birds on the pool in front of the New Fen Viewpoint. An adult Great Crested Grebe was being followed round by a well grown juvenile, still boasting a black and white striped face. The family of Coot have almost fully grown young too, but the female Tufted Duck was all alone. A Kingfisher zipped out of the trees behind us and disappeared low across the water, returning the same way a minute or so later with fish in bill. A smart male Marsh Harrier flew across over the reeds at the back.

Great Crested GrebeGreat Crested Grebe – on the pools at New Fen

As we continued out along the main path, there were lots of dragonflies by the path. Several male Black-tailed Skimmers were basking on the bare dirt along the track, flying off ahead of us. The vegetation either side was alive with Ruddy Darters today, presumably recently emerged as they seemed to be mostly young males and females. There were butterflies too, with Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells on the brambles. A Large Skipper landed briefly beside the path.

Ruddy DarterRuddy Darter – there were lots out today

On the walk out, we had heard a Cuckoo singing from the poplars in the distance, but it had stopped when we got to New Fen. As we approached the West Wood it flew straight out of the trees towards us and landed in the poplars right by the path. We had a great look at it through the scope, before it flew deeper into the trees and started singing again. A second Cuckoo was still singing in West Wood as we passed.

CuckooCuckoo – landed in the poplars next to the path briefly

Continuing on to Joist Fen viewpoint, there were several RSPB volunteers hanging around staring out across the reeds. They were doing a Bittern survey today. It wasn’t long before we spotted a Bittern for them. It flew up out of the reeds in front of the viewpoint and headed off over the channel, before turning and dropping down into the reeds along one side. There was a lot of Bittern activity today – this is a good time to see them, as the adults are making regular feeding flights to and from their nests.

There were plenty of other birds to see at Joist Fen. Several Marsh Harriers were quartering back and forth over the reeds, a Common Tern was fishing over one of the pools and a Cormorant flew up from one of the channels and headed over towards the river. A flock of over 20 Black-tailed Godwits circled over the reedbed. We heard Bearded Tits calling a couple of times but couldn’t see them – it was getting rather breezy now. There was no sign of any Hobbys here today, but it was perhaps rather too cool and windy after the rain, which was keeping all the insects down.

Climbing up onto the river bank, we had a quick scan across the fields opposite, but it was all rather quiet here. Several Mute Swans were feeding along the river, as was another Great Crested Grebe. Looking back across Joist Fen, we spotted another two Bitterns flying across together further over, before splitting off and dropping down again in different directions.

Back at Mere Hide it was more sheltered and there were more dragonflies, with several Four-Spotted Chasers chasing around over the water. A Red-eyed Damselfly landed on a cut reed stem just in front of the hide. A Kingfisher flew in and looked like it might land on one of the posts out in the water but instead carried on past and landed in the reeds right next to the hide. It was partly obscured by the reeds, but we got a great look at it.

KingfisherKingfisher – landed in the reeds right in front of Mere Hide

Back at New Fen, we stopped by the viewpoint again briefly, but there were still no Hobbys here either. We did see another Bittern, our fourth of the morning, which flew right across low over the reeds and over the river bank, turning and landing just beyond. We walked round there to see if it was close to the path, but when we arrived there was no sign of it.

We made our way back along the river bank to the Washland. It was looking rather dry now, and there were fewer ducks than earlier in the year. We did manage to see a nice selection of waders, including a single Little Ringed Plover, one Redshank, two Black-tailed Godwits and plenty of Oystercatchers & Lapwings. In the distance beyond, e could see a Red Kite circling.

It was time for lunch, so we headed back to the car. We were just getting the food out when we looked up to see a Bittern flying low overhead. A bit of a surprise, as we were some way from any reeds! It disappeared off towards the visitor centre.

BitternBittern – flew low over the car park as we were getting our lunch out

After lunch, we headed back into the forest to look for some typical species which can be found here. Our first stop has been a regular site for Redstart in the last few weeks, but there was no sight nor sound of it here today. Hopefully, this means it has found a female and they have settled down to breed nearby.

We had a walk into the clearing and as we made our way round the edge, a pipit flew overhead and dropped down into the grass. We made our way over to see if we could see it but before we got there we heard a bird calling softly from the trees nearby and looked up to see another pipit perched in a pine. As we hoped, it was a Tree Pipit and we got a great look at it through the scope.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – up in the pines carrying food for its young

The Tree Pipit was carrying food in its bill, so presumably has young nearby. We left it in peace and retreated. We had intended to go to another site for Tree Pipit after this, but there was now no need. So instead we went round to the other side of the clearing to see if we could find any sign of a Redstart.

It was rather quiet here now, the middle of the afternoon and cool and breezy. A flock of tits moved quickly along the edge of the pines – Long-tailed Tits accompanied by a few Blue and Coal Tits. We flushed a couple of Yellowhammers from the grass, which flew up into the trees nearby. However, the highlight of our walk here was a Woodlark which perched in the top of a small pine briefly in the middle of the clearing.

Our final destination for the afternoon was Lynford Arboretum. We had hoped that there might be more activity here, out of the wind, but it was rather subdued here too. As we walked round, we did find a couple of Nuthatches dropping down to the ground to feed under a small tree and we heard a Treecreeper calling from the wood. There were quite a few Siskins buzzing round the tops of the firs in the Arboretum and a pair came down and landed a little lower where we could see them briefly. A couple of Goldcrests showed themselves too.

We made our way down to the lake. There are always Little Grebes on here and they seemed to have had a good breeding season. As adult was feeding a small juvenile under the overhanging branches just along from the bridge. Further along, 3-4 fully grown juvenile Little Grebes, still sporting stripey faces, were diving among the lily pads.

Little GrebeLittle Grebe – one of the fully grown juveniles on the lake

When we got the end of the lake, we turned and made our way slowly back to the car to finish the day.

8th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 2

Day 2 of a three day Private Tour today. We were planning to travel further afield, a day of twitching, to try to see some of the more unusual birds lingering around East Anglia at the moment. It was a cloudy but dry day, still very windy but thankfully not quite as strong as it was yesterday.

The drive down to Minsmere was a slow one this morning. We hit rush hour around Norwich, which was not too bad, but then were held up behind a Highways Agency van which seemed to just be trying to build up as large a queue of traffic as possible as it drove along very slowly with lights flashing. When it finally pulled over, there was no sign of what might have required that sort of action. A couple of Red Kites were the only highlights of the journey.

When we eventually got down to the reserve, we walked straight out to Bittern Hide. There has been a Purple Heron here for several days now, but it spends a lot of time down in the reedbed out of view. It had been seen about one and a half hours before we arrived, but nothing since. We sat down and prepared for a vigil.

There were other things to see while we waited. A female Marsh Harrier spent ages diving repeatedly at something hidden down in reeds. A Bittern had flown in and landed in that very spot earlier, before we arrived, which was probably what it was trying to chase off. Apparently the Marsh Harrier had a nest nearby. A smart male Marsh Harrier spent some time quartering over the reeds in front of the hide – unfortunately not close enough to flush the Purple Heron!

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier – quartering the reeds in front of the hide

There were several reserve volunteers in the hide today, with radios and clipboards. It turned out they were doing a co-ordinated Bittern survey, which meant we were quickly alerted to any Bittern flights. We got a very brief glimpse of one at first, just as it dropped back in to the reeds. A little later, another Bittern came up and we watched it for several seconds as it flew from us away over the reeds.

A Grey Heron flew in and landed exactly where the Purple Heron was last seen, but even that didn’t flush it out. Several Little Egrets flew past, there were lots of Swifts and Sand Martins zipping back and forth over the reeds in the wind, and two Common Terns drifted past calling.

Finally the Purple Heron appeared – we only had to wait about an hour. It flew up briefly and dropped down again, behind the reeds in front of the hide, where we could just see its head. Then it was up again and off, in a long flight across over the reedbed, before dropping down over towards the main scrape hides. It was great to see it.

Purple Heron 1

Purple Heron 2Purple Heron – finally came out of hiding and flew away over the reeds

Purple Herons are rare visitors here from southern Europe. This is a young bird, a 1st summer, which has presumably overshot on its way north. It will probably drift round the UK for a while before making its way back to the continent.

It was time to move on, so we made our way round to the scrapes and the Wildlife Lookout. There were lots of gulls out on the islands in front of the hide. As well as lots of Black-headed Gulls there were plenty of Mediterranean Gulls too. Having got great views of them in flight over the last few days, it was nice to get a couple of birds in the scope on the ground today, admiring their jet black heads and white wing tips. Otherwise, there were just a few big gulls here, Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gulls – nice to see some birds on the ground this time

It looks like Minsmere is a good place for feral wildfowl these days. There were lots of feral Barnacle Geese on the scrapes – we saw several pairs with juveniles today, presumably having bred here. Another four more Barnacle Geese flew in calling. There had been a pair of feral Bar-headed Geese here yesterday with a single gosling, but we couldn’t find them today.

Apart from the gulls and the geese, there were just a few waders – Avocets and Lapwings – and a couple of Little Egrets. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, we had other plans, so we made our way back towards the visitor centre. We took a quick detour round to see if we could see any Stone Curlew, but the vegetation was too high and no birds were out in view. That was really a target for tomorrow, so we didn’t stop here long.

As we made our way out of the reserve, we made a quick stop to to look at a mob of roosting gulls in a field. There were lots of Herring Gulls of various ages, plus a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and one or two young Great Black-backed Gulls. The one interesting looking gull we could find was mostly hidden from view behind the throng, with its head down preening. It looked like a 1st summer Yellow-legged Gull, but before we could get a good look at it a Herring Gull landed in front and it sat down and was lost to view. We continued on our journey.

It was a slow journey back up to the Broads. We were heading for Potter Heigham, but news came through of a White-winged Black Tern on the beach at Winterton. It  had actually been seen a couple of times flying past offshore in the morning, but had finally settled down on the sand with the Little Terns. We took a quick diversion down to the beach at Winterton, but when we got there, we found the White-winged Black Tern had been disturbed by dog walker and flown off south.

We had a late lunch on the beach, looking out to sea. A small raft of Common Scoter were diving offshore, and we could see a few distant Little Terns and Sandwich Terns. We thought about walking up the beach to the Little Tern colony to look anyway, but one of the local birders called another person who was up at the colony and it was confirmed there was still no sign of the White-winged Black Tern. We decided to revert to Plan A, and head for Potter Heigham. It was only later we found out that the White-winged Black Tern was relocated in the Little Tern colony just 5 minutes after we left, but then had flown off out to sea!!

It was our intention to visit Potter Heigham today anyway, as we knew there were some Black-winged Stilts nesting there. A rare but increasing visitor from southern Europe, their presence was being kept quiet to protect them from egg thieves. A quick phone call to check on them earlier this morning had revealed the eggs had hatched yesterday, so we were even keener to see them today. On our way there, the news was finally released that the Black-winged Stilts had successfully hatched 4 young and they were still all present and correct.

When we got to the site, we walked straight round to look for them. First we found a lone female Black-winged Stilt on one of the islands preening. Looking further back, there was the male Black-winged Stilt crouched on its knees. It took a bit of looking for them as they were so tiny and hard to see in the vegetation on the muddy island, but we eventually found the four tiny fluffy bundles, the four one day old juvenile Black-winged Stilts. A fantastic sight!

Black-winged StiltsBlack-winged Stilts – the proud parents, with the 4 juveniles hiding nearby

The adult Black-winged Stilts were largely ignoring the young ones, leaving them to wander some distance away among the nesting Black-headed Gulls. The adults would fly occasionally to chase off large gulls or any other potential predator flying over. Young Black-winged Stilts are very vulnerable to predation, so fingers crossed they survive.

Scanning across the scrape, we noticed another Black-winged Stilt nearby. Were there three adults? Unfortunately we never managed to see all of them at the same time, and the new bird was chased off by the male before we could see the female of the pair again. There had been two adults reported earlier, but it was only later, talking to another local birder, that we confirmed that he too had seen three adults and all at the same time.

We watched the Black-winged Stilts for a bit, before walking further up to check out the other pools. A Spoonbill was standing out on the mud by the reeds on one of them and for once it was awake! We got it in the scope and could see it was a young one, born last summer, with a still largely flesh-coloured bill and no crest.

SpoonbillSpoonbill – a 1st summer bird on one of the pools

There were plenty of Little Egrets here too, but we couldn’t find the waders which had been reported yesterday. There were three Ringed Plovers on the mud and the usual Avocets, Lapwings and Redshank, but no other waders today (not forgetting the Stilts, of course!).

A Wigeon and a few Teal were the most notable ducks here. Otherwise, it was back to looking at escaped wildfowl. The female Bufflehead has been here for a while now, but is sporting a green ring so has got out from a cage somewhere. A White-cheeked Pintail was never a candidate for a genuine vagrant, unfortunately.

There were not many butterflies or dragonflies out in the wind today, but on the walk back to the car, a Norfolk Hawker dragonfly was flying around the bushes by the path. This is a particular speciality of this part of the country, so always nice to see. There were also numerous caterpillars out now, all crossing the path one way or the other. Most were Garden Tiger moth caterpillars, but there was also one Drinker moth caterpillar too.

Garden Tiger moth caterpillarGarden Tiger moth caterpillar – there were loads on the path on the way back

The other highlight of the walk back to the car was a Crane. We had scanned the marshes quickly on the walk out without success, but looked more carefully on the way back. It was looking like we might be out of luck until we picked one up flying low across the marshes in the distance. It gained height and flew past one of the old windpumps – a typical Broadland scene these days – before dropping down out of view again. Not a close view, but always nice to see anyway.

We had just stopped to scan the pools along the approach road when news came through that the White-winged Black Tern was back on the beach at Winterton. Even though it was getting late in the day and we would be cutting it fine to get back in time for dinner, we decided to head round for another go. It was a nervous drive round, after our experience earlier.

As we walked quickly up the beach, it was reassuring that there were not so many dog walkers out now. A couple of local birders were just walking back and kindly pointed the White-winged Black Tern out to us, quite a distance further up the beach in the Little Tern colony. We had a very quick look, before hurrying up to where it was. But before we got there, all the terns took off and we didn’t see the White-winged Black Tern go. When we arrived, there was no further sign of it at first.

Little TernLittle Tern – nice to see and hear all the terns in the colony here

After our experience earlier, we were convinced the White-winged Black Tern would return, so we stood and waited, watching all the Little Terns coming and going as we did so. Thankfully after just a few nervous minutes scanning, we picked it up coming back in off the sea. We were then treated to stunning views as it flew all round us, circling overhead, before heading back out to the sea again.

White-winged Black Tern 2

White-winged Black Tern 1

White-winged Black Tern 3White-winged Black Tern – stunning views as it circled all around us

White-winged Black Tern is a rare visitor to the UK from Eastern Europe. A few are seen here every year, but they can be hard to catch up with and often don’t hang around, so this one was great to see. It was also an adult in full summer plumage, one of the most stunning of all terns.

Having had great views of it in flight, we wanted to see the White-winged Black Tern perched too. Thankfully we only had to wait a couple of minutes before it flew back in to the beach again and landed on the sand with a group of Little Terns. We got a great look at it as it stood there preening for a couple of minutes. Than it was off again, back out to the sea. We stood for a while watching it dip feeding just offshore, reluctant to tear ourselves away.

White-winged Black Tern 4White-winged Black Tern – landed on the beach with all the Little Terns

It was a great way to end the day, watching this fantastic bird. Eventually we made our way back to the car and headed for home. Even better, we were back in time for dinner, and we had seen the White-winged Black Tern!

4th June 2017 – Early Summer Birding, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day long weekend of tours, our last day. It was a nice sunny day today, not too hot, with some hazy cloud, great weather to be out birding. We headed down to the Brecks to try to see some of the local specialities.

Stone Curlew is a scarce breeding species for which the Brecks is well known – it is one of the best places in the country to see them. There are a few remnants of grass heath left here, their traditional habitat, but many now attempt to nest of farmland. On our way south, we swung round by some regular sites to see if we could find one. After recent rain and warm weather, the vegetation has started to get rather tall, making them quite a bit harder to see. However, our luck was in this morning. At our first stop, we found a pair of Stone Curlews in a field.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair in a field this morning

The Stone Curlews were very hard to see at times in the vegetation, particularly when they sat down. However, with patience we were treated to great views through the scope as they walked around in the field. Even when they sat down, we could still see their heads – the striking yellow iris and black-tipped yellow bill.

A couple of Brown Hares were in the field too. At first, they sat opposite each other, facing off. But then we were treated to a quick boxing bout, as one ran towards the other and they both reared up and flapped their front legs at each other. Then they gave up and went back to feeding quietly.

Brown HaresBrown Hares – this pair treated us to a quick bout of boxing

With great views of Stone Curlew in the bag, we moved quickly on. Lakenheath Fen was to be our main destination for the morning. It is a big reserve and we wanted to allow some time to explore as much of it as possible. We did stop at another couple of sites on our way, but couldn’t find any more Stone Curlews at either of these places today – they were obviously hiding in the vegetation here, perhaps not a surprise for a mostly crepuscular species, and with the day warming up nicely.

We did find a few Red-legged Partridges in the fields on our stops. A family of Mistle Thrushes were feeding down in the grass, a Jay flew across and landed on a fence post and a Marsh Tit calling from a line of trees were all nice additions to the day’s list.

After a rather leisurely journey down, it was already quite late in the morning by the time we got to Lakenheath Fen, so we set out straight away onto the reserve. There were lots of butterflies feeding on the brambles by the path in the sunshine – Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock. A single Common Blue was in the grass too as we walked past.

Small TortoiseshellSmall Tortoiseshell – several butterflies were feeding on the brambles on the walk out

There were a few warblers singing as we walked out. A Common Whitethroat was lurking in the bushes, we could hear Reed Warblers in the reeds, a Cetti’s Warbler shouted at us as we passed. Both Blackcap and Garden Warbler were singing from deep in the poplars but they were impossible to see amongst all the fluttering leaves.

There was quite a crowd gathered at New Fen viewpoint as we arrived. There had been a report of a possible Little Bittern heard here yesterday, but we didn’t hear anything other than the nattering of all the people. A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water in front of the viewpoint, along with its stripy-headed chick. A Grey Wagtail was more of a surprise here, flying overhead before dropping down into the reeds. We could hear a male Cuckoo singing from the poplars and someone pointed out a female Cuckoo lurking in the top of one of the bushes out in the reeds.

CuckooCuckoo – a female, with rusty brown around the upper breast and neck

We got a good look at the female Cuckoo through the scope, noting the rusty brown tones to the upper breast, rather than the clean grey hood of the male. We heard lots of Cuckoos here today – both singing males with the classic ‘cook-coo’, the strange bubbling call of the females, and excited males giving various more elaborate song variations in response. It is such a scarce bird in the wider countryside these days, it is always great to come to a reserve like Lakenheath Fen where they are still relatively common and listen to them.

After a short rest at New Fen, we carried on up the main path. A Kingfisher zipped across out of the poplars and over the bank to New Fen, but too quickly for everyone to get onto it. A smart male Marsh Harrier, with silvery grey wings and black tips, circled up out of the reeds and over West Wood. A single Hobby, our first of the day, flew low across New Fen, just visible over the vegetation on the bank.

There were lots of damselflies in the vegetation by the path, mostly Azure Damselflies and Blue-tailed Damselflies, but along the path on the edge of West Wood we found quite a few Red-eyed Damselflies in the reeds and nettles too. We had hoped to find a Scarce Chaser along here, but it was rather breezy along here now and there were just a few Four-spotted Chasers.

Red-eyed DamselflyRed-eyed Damselfly – several were along the path by West Wood

With one eye on the clock to make sure we got back in time for lunch, we made our way quickly out to Joist Fen viewpoint. We had been told on the walk out that the Bitterns had been showing very well here this morning, flying back and forth, but it seemed rather quiet at first, when we got there. We couldn’t hear any booming – it was the middle of the day by now, which can be a quieter time. There were at least six Hobbys hawking for insects distantly out over the reeds and several Marsh Harriers circling up. All the group finally got to see a Kingfisher here, with a couple zipping in and out out over the reeds carrying food.

Thankfully we didn’t have too long to wait. Suddenly a Bittern flew up out of the reeds. It turned and flew straight towards us, giving us a great look at it as it flew round and out of sight behind the bushes beyond the shelter. That would have been nice enough, but it then came over the bushes and turned back towards us, flying round close past behind us, croaking as it went. Wow!

BitternBittern – great views as it flew round the Joist Fen viewpoint

The Bittern flew about 180 degrees round the viewpoint, before finally bearing away to our left and dropping down into the reeds beyond, giving us all stunning flight views. A minute or so later, what was presumably the same bird started booming over in that direction. We couldn’t have asked for a better show.

With such great views of Bittern already, we decided that wouldn’t be bettered and started making our way back for lunch. As we walked back along the main track, a couple of Hobbys appeared over West Wood. They were joined by more and soon we had five Hobbys hanging in the air or circling. Even better, a couple of them drifted out over the reeds towards us, giving us our best views of the day overhead.

HobbyHobby – great views overhead on the walk back

Our luck was in with the dragonflies on the way back too. A young male Scarce Chaser flew past, a flash of rich orange, and landed on a reed stem nearby. We had seen a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on the walk out, but a smart male stopped nicely for us in the sun now. We also managed to find a Variable Damselfly with all the Azure Damselflies too.

Hairy DragonflyHairy Dragonfly – a male, with distinctive hairy thorax

After lunch back at the Visitor Centre, we headed off into the Forest to try to find some other of our target birds for the day. There has been a Wood Warbler singing near Brandon for about ten days now and it has been showing very well at times. We drove down the track and parked, before walking along the path to where it has been seen. Even before we got there, we could hear it singing.

As we walked in to the trees, it was clear the Wood Warbler was singing from low down and right by the path. We were treated to some great views as it fluttered around only a couple of metres up in some small trees just a short distance ahead of us, even coming right towards us along the path at one point. We even managed to get it in the scope briefly, when it perched still for a while, singing.  Bill open, its whole body quivered with the effort of delivering its song, sounding rather like a spinning coin slowly settling on a hard surface.

Wood WarblerWood Warbler – showed very well, singing right in front of us

Wood Warbler is a very scarce bird here these days, though it is still found in the wetter woods of the north and west of the country. It used to be a regular breeder here albeit in small numbers, but has now all but disappeared, with just the occasional lone bird found singing, possibly a northbound migrant which has stopped off for some reason to try its luck. This has been a better spring for them, with several seen this year, but still it is unlikely any will manage to pair up and breed. Eventually, the Wood Warbler started to move higher into the trees, so after seeing it so well we moved quickly on.

Our luck was in now, as we headed over to another site in the Forest and immediately heard a Redstart singing from a small group of trees as soon as we arrived. We made our way round to the other side, at a discrete distance so as not to disturb it, and the Redstart suddenly appeared in the top of a large hawthorn. Through the scope, we got a great look at it, bright reddish-orange below, black faced and with its striking white forehead shining in the sun. Male Redstarts are really stunning birds to see.

RedstartRedstart – a cracking male singing on the edge of the Forest

The Redstart kept dropping down out of sight, but then coming back up into the top of the hawthorn to sing. The song is easily overlooked, a series of short, melodic but slightly sad sounding bursts interspersed with long pauses. We stood and listened to it for a while, until it worked its way through the bushes and round to the other side of the trees, out of view.

Like the Wood Warbler, Redstarts used to be much commoner birds in this part of the country, but declined through the last century and are now mostly confined to a few sites around the Forest. So it is always a treat to see one here and particular to hear it singing.

Our final destination for the afternoon saw us park up by a forestry track and walk deeper into the forest. It was rather quiet in the trees, with just the odd Goldcrest or Coal Tit heard in the dense coniferous plantations. We made our way round to a clearing and, as we approached, a pair of Stonechats were perched in the top of an old stump row, calling. They were collecting food, so presumably had young nearby. A couple of Whitethroats appeared with them.

We had come looking for Tree Pipit and a short snatch of half song suggested there might be one close by. We walked round to the other side of some trees and there it was, perched in some dead branches. It stayed there for a few seconds, pumping its tail, and we could see it was colour-ringed, before it flew up into a tall birch tree nearby. Almost immediately it dropped back down towards the clearing and was followed by a second Tree Pipit, presumably a pair.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – appeared in some dead branches in front of us

One of the two Tree Pipits dropped down to the ground out of sight, but the second, presumably the male and the same bird we had seen first, landed in the top of a young fir tree, where we could get it in the scope. We had a great look at it, as it stayed there for ages, preening for a while, looking round, turning so we could see it front on as well.

While we were standing here watching the first Tree Pipit, we just caught what sounded like the song of another way off in the distance. Scanning the young trees, we managed to find it, perched in the top of another small fir, right over the other side of the clearing. It is great to think there might be two pairs here this year.

Eventually, the first Tree Pipit dropped down to the ground out of view, so we left them to feed quietly. It was time to call it a day anyway now, so we made our way back to the car. It had been a very successful day in the Brecks, and a great way to round off an exciting three days of summer birding in East Anglia.

22nd July 2016 – Back to the Brecks

A Summer Tour today in the Brecks, the first of 3 days. It was generally sunny but with some high cloud at times meaning it wasn’t quite as hot as it had been earlier in the week.

6O0A6479Six-spot Burnet – on Viper’s Bugloss

We stopped to have a quick look for Stone Curlews on the way. There was no sign of the two juveniles we have been watching for the last month or so, but as they were already well grown it is possible they have fledged by now. At this time of the year, particularly after such a wet spring and early summer, the vegetation is very high and the birds can easily hide from view too. We did see a Green Woodpecker fly over.

There were lots of insects to look at. Lots of Burnet Moths were buzzing around the flowers – Six-spot and Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets. We managed to find both Small Skipper and Essex Skipper too (and, with the help of a photo or too, to have a close look at the underside of their antenna tips!). Several Meadow Browns were fluttering around in the grass. Ringlets and a couple of Brown Hawker dragonflies were buzzing round the brambles.

6O0A6489Small Skipper

Weeting Heath is normally a very reliable place to see Stone Curlew at this time of year, as the rabbits traditionally keep the vegetation down. However, it has been a very difficult season for Stone Curlew there this year. The first broods were being incubated just as the cold and wet weather arrived and both nests were lost. Only one pair eventually returned to re-lay but was then predated by a fox. In addition, the rabbit population has collapsed in recent years and the vegetation here is also unusually high this year. Consequently we have not seen Stone Curlews from the hides here with any regularity in recent weeks, but we still had a very brief look in as we were passing. A family party of four Mistle Thrushes were the best we could find. We didn’t hang around long as we wanted to get on to Lakenheath Fen before it got too hot.

The sun was shining as we pulled into the car park at Lakenheath Fen. A Blackcap was singing from the bushes by the visitor centre. There were lots of Reed Warblers clambering around in the sallows by the path as we walked out. There seemed to have been a very recent emergence of Red Admirals – there were loads of very smart looking butterflies on the flowers beside the path and even coming down to the almost dry puddles on the path itself.

6O0A6500Red Admiral – looking very fresh

There were a couple of Great Crested Grebes out on the water in front of New Fen Viewpoint when we arrived. A young Marsh Harrier circled up over towards the river and flew across the back of the reeds, very dark chocolate brown with just a golden orange-yellow head. A Bearded Tit flew up unannounced from the reeds right in front of us and disappeared over into the vegetation just beyond the shelter. We could hear occasional quiet ‘pinging’ and then see the reeds moving, before if flew back low across the water – a smart adult male, with grey head and black ‘moustache’.

A sound like a squealing pig alerted us to the presence of a Water Rail down in the reeds below us, but it was typically keeping itself well hidden. A Common Tern was flying back and forth right at the back, fishing, before eventually flying straight towards us and doing a circuit of the pool in front.

6O0A6257Common Tern – a recent photo from New Fen Viewpoint

It was starting to warm up, so we carried on out towards Joist Fen. As we approached the junction in the path by the West Wood, we could hear a Kingfisher calling and spotted it flying straight towards us. It landed on a low stump on the edge of the trees just a few metres away from us, but unfortunately was quickly spooked by our presence and flew off again in a flash of electric blue. Another male Bearded Tit perched up in the top of the reeds as we walked on, giving us a much better look at it before it flew across the path and disappeared into the reeds.

We had only just arrived at Joist Fen Viewpoint when one of the other people already there shouted ‘Cranes‘. We looked out over the reeds to see four Common Cranes flying across. There are two pairs of Cranes at Lakenheath at the moment, one of which has recently fledged two chicks and these were the birds we could see. They had been feeding over the other side of the river and were flying back home. They flew slowly across over the reeds before dropping down out of view the other side. Great stuff!

6O0A6512Common Crane – the Lakenheath family of four

This had been a good spot to see Bitterns on their feeding flights earlier in the week, but we had just missed one before we walked up. We waited a while but it seemed increasingly like we would be out of luck. Some new arrivals at the viewpoint announced that one had flown across in front of West Wood while we had been looking out at Joist Fen. One of the group then caught a quick glimpse of one which dropped straight back into the reeds, while the rest of us were admiring another recently fledged young Marsh Harrier which was circling up out of the reeds, calling.

6O0A6314Marsh Harrier – a fresh juvenile over Joist Fen recently

Just when we were about to give up hope, we turned to see a Bittern. It flew slowly past the viewpoint and continued way out over the reedbed beyond. Well worth the wait!

6O0A6515Bittern – flew past Joist Fen Viewpoint

With time getting on, we decided to start the walk back at this point. We stopped in at Mere Hide on the way. There has been a Kingfisher on the posts in front of the hide in the last week, but there was no sign of it when we were there. A couple of Bearded Tits zipped to and fro over the reeds, calling. Several Reed Warblers were clambouring around low down in the reeds just across the water.

The highlights from Mere Hide were the dragonflies. A large, blue and green, Emperor patrolled back and forth in front of the hide. Several Four-spotted Chasers were chasing about low over the water. There were a few Common Blue Damselflies around the reeds and a couple of Banded Demoiselles flopped past. The Red-eyed Damselflies were harder to spot, remaining mostly still perched on the islands of blanket weed.

6O0A6521Red-eyed Damselfly – in front of Mere Hide

As we walked out of the hide, back towards the main path, another Bittern flew overhead and disappeared out over New Fen. Then it was quickly back to the visitor centre for a late lunch, with Common and Ruddy Darters buzzing about our feet on the way.

After lunch, we decided to have another go for Stone Curlew and headed over to Cavenham Heath. We parked in a suitable spot and got out to scan the heath. The grass had grown quite tall here too, but was better than at Weeting. Almost hidden in the vegetation some way over, we could just see the head of a Stone Curlew sticking out, the black-tipped yellow bill and the yellow iris. We got it in the scope and most of the group were able to get onto it but if we dropped the scope height down it became impossible to see. We were just trying to reposition ourselves when it disappeared.

That was a great start, but we wanted everyone to get a look at one, so we walked along the path, scanning across the heath. A pair of Stonechats were perched up in the taller vegetation across the heath on the other side of the track. A Green Woodpecker called from the trees. There were several butterflies on the flowers by the path, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and several very smart Small Coppers.

6O0A6536Small Copper – we saw several at Cavenham

We were beginning to think we had run out of luck when we spotted a Stone Curlew right out in the open on a grassy mound. We quickly got it in the scope and each had a brief look at it, expecting it to walk back down into the long grass, but it stayed where it was and started to preen. We were then able to get really good, long looks at it. Cracking stuff and well worth the effort!

IMG_5260Stone Curlew – finally one stood out in the open

While the Stone Curlew stood out on the mound, we continued to watch it. Eventually, it finished preening and, after standing looking round for a few minutes, it walked back into the long grass and out of view. We walked slowly back to the car and had just got back in when we heard Stone Curlews calling. Two flew up from the heath, possibly one being the bird we had first seen, and disappeared away over the trees beyond.

Today had been billed as a day of Stone Curlews, Cranes and Bitterns, and so it was – we got there in the end. With that, it was time to head for home. On our way back to the road, the Rooks and Jackdaws were gathered en masse on the wires, about to do the same.

29th April 2016 – Five Days of Spring, Part 3

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.

IMG_3327Wheatear – 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!

IMG_3333Nightingale – 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!

6O0A1421Nightingale – 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!


IMG_3359Cuckoo – 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.

6O0A1461Bittern – 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.

6O0A1501Marsh 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.

6O0A1510Firecrest – 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.

22nd March 2016 – Bright in the Brecks

Back to the Brecks again today. It looked like it would be a glorious day, as it dawned bright & clear, with lovely blue skies. Great weather to be exploring the Brecks.

P1190145Santon Downham – the river in early morning sunshine

We started with a walk along the river at Santon Downham. From the bridge, we could see a pair of Grey Wagtails picking along the edge of a small patch of exposed stony mud down along the bank. As we walked down the steps, a Kingfisher called but we didn’t see it – presumably it had flown off the other way from under the bridge as we approached.

One of the local Starlings was singing outside a nest hole – with a very commendable impression of Lapwing thrown in to the mix. A Treecreeper was calling from high up in the poplars nearby. A pair of Siskins flew up from the edge of the ditch on the other side of the path and started feeding in the alder overhanging the river. We could hear several Siskins singing as we walked along, and saw more pairs zooming in and out through the treetops as they like to do at this time of year.

P1190154Siskin – a pair were feeding in the trees beside the river

As we walked down beside the river, we could hear Mandarin Ducks calling from the trees on the other side. They were obviously on the move, with the sound going back and forth behind the alders until they circled out of the trees and flew upstream along the river above us.

A Green Woodpecker was calling from the Suffolk side of the river as we walked out. Eventually it flew across to our side, landing briefly in the poplars before disappearing off back over the railway. There was a surprising lack of Great Spotted Woodpecker activity here today – there is normally no shortage of them here. Eventually one called and flew cross the river. Those were all the woodpeckers we managed here this morning, but we didn’t stay long. The air was now warming nicely and we had somewhere else we wanted to be this morning.

We drove on into the Forest and parked up by a suitable ride. The walk out through the commercial plantations was fairly quiet, apart from a few tits, especially Coal Tits, several of which were singing, and Goldcrests. A pair of Treecreepers were exploring the bark of a large old oak tree beside the path.

When we got to a small clearing, we could hear a Woodlark singing. A quick scan and we found it down on the ground on the path along the other side. It perched up on the fence briefly before flying down out of view, followed by a second Woodlark. We were just wondering whether to walk down to try to get a better look, when another Woodlark appeared in the top of a small fir tree much closer to us and started singing quietly. This one we got in the scope and had a much better look at.

IMG_0689Woodlark – perched in the top of a fir tree, singing

Further on, as we arrived in the main clearing, a dark male Pheasant, glossy bluish-purple and green, ran off into the trees. These so called ‘tenebrosus’ variant Pheasants are released in large numbers for shooting on some estates, which select different captive-bred forms based on their flight characteristics, but this is the first time we have seen one deep in the Forest.

We had not got much further, when we stopped to scan the trees and found two Common Buzzards circling up in the distance. Then one of the group spotted a different raptor circling nearby, very pale white below and silvery grey above as it caught the light, a Goshawk. It drifted over towards the Buzzards and started to circle with them, then as it climbed above them it had a couple of short stoops towards the Buzzards, pulling up just above them, as if warning them to be careful where they wandered!

After gaining a bit of height, the Goshawk started to glide away from them towards the other side of the clearing, where it clearly found another thermal as it started to gain height rapidly. It was very hard to keep track of against a clear blue sky, with no points of reference. It was getting closer but going much higher when we eventually lost sight of it high above us.

We walked round to the middle of the clearing, from where we could get a better all-round view. A Woodlark flew up from beside the path and circled round behind us, landing briefly on one of the fence posts nearby. There were several Woodlarks around here as usual, but they were rather slow to get going today. We could hear them calling and see the odd bird or pair flying back and forth, but it was comparatively late in the morning before they started to sing and songflight. Woodlarks are very early to return to their breeding sites in the spring and it is likely that some of them are already well established here. The Skylarks were rather more vocal in comparison.

We waited a while to see if the Goshawks would perform again. Despite the bright day and the warmth in the air, even the Common Buzzards were a little restrained today. There were several little groups of three or so we could see circling above the trees. Eventually, another Goshawk appeared over the trees, but it only circled up for a minute or so before folding its wings and dropping sharply back into cover. A Sparrowhawk circled up as well nearby, noticeably smaller and darker, with more rapid bursts of wingbeats and tighter circles as it spiralled up.

There were a lot of things we wanted to do today so, with our main target seen, we decided to move on. On the way back through the trees, one of the group saw a bird fly up from the ground along one of the side tracks. It perched on the branch of a pine tree over the path, half hidden amongst the needles, watching us and waiting for us to go past. It was a Grey Wagtail, a very odd bird to see in the middle of the Forest, more at home by the river as we had seen them earlier. It wanted to drop back down to the puddles in the ruts in the path, but was reluctant to do so while we were there. Presumably it was a migrant which had stopped off to feed here.

IMG_0702Grey Wagtail – surprised feeding by a puddle in the middle of the Forest

Our next stop was at Grimes Graves. The Great Grey Shrike was easy enough to find, in its usual clearing. Perched right on top of the bushes and small trees it really stood out, a bright white bird catching the sun. There was a surprising amount of heat haze here today and the Great Grey Shrike was a bit distant at first. We watched it repeatedly dropping down to the ground from its high perch, before flying up to the top of a different bush. Eventually it worked its way a little closer to us. There was a little bit of cloud in the sky now too, and when the sun went in the haze dropped sufficiently for us to get a better look at it.

Great Grey ShrikeGreat Grey Shrike – a recent photo of it here

While we were watching the Great Grey Shrike, we heard the distinctive ‘glip, glip, glip’ calls of Crossbills. Unfortunately we couldn’t see them – and no sooner had we heard them than the sound disappeared over the trees behind us. Time was getting on now, so we headed off and round to Santon Downham for a late lunch.

After lunch, we walked up to the churchyard. As we were making our way up the road, we could hear Firecrest calling in the trees and then it broke into a quick burst of song, despite the fact that it was getting increasingly cloudy now. We cut in along a path and could see it flitting around. It perched in full view for a second, but it was hard for everyone to get onto it, before it disappeared further in. We followed it back out and onto the sunny edge by the road, but it had climbed back up into the tops of the trees now, where we could see it flicking in and out, occasionally doing little sallies into the air after small flies, but it was not ideal viewing. Then we heard the distinctive call of an F16 approaching and two jets came low overhead on their way towards USAF Lakenheath.

The Firecrest went quiet and disappeared into the trees for a minute or so, before we heard it singing again further up the road and back deeper in the trees. We chased after it and this time caught it feeding only about five metres up in the ivy round the trunk of a fir. Now we had great views of it, singing and calling but feeding all the time, picking at the leaves or making little flycatching flights, working its way up and down the tree. We could see its bright yellow crown stripe, its black and white-striped face which is the main distinguishing feature from the similar Goldcrest, as well as its brighter, cleaner white underparts and bronzey-gold patch on the sides of the neck. Firecrests are really stunning little birds!

FirecrestFirecrest – a photo from last year of one in the Brecks

Our last stop of the day was at Lynford. We made our way down along the track and stopped briefly by the feeders. There was not much food out today, but a steady stream of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits were attaching the fat balls, which are all but gone already. Amazing how quickly they have got through them! There were a few Chaffinches on the ground but still no real sign of the Hawfinches coming in here this year. We didn’t linger here long, but did stop a little further along to admire a smart male Bullfinch which was feeding on the buds of the bushes nearby. It perched in full view for a few seconds, but then retreated deeper into the vegetation when the cameras came out, where we could still just see it feeding amongst the branches and blossom.

P1190165Blue Tits & Coal Tit – the fat balls are almost gone already!

Down at the bridge, the food delivery for the day was just arriving – a selection of biscuit crumbs and seed mix was being liberally sprinkled about the posts and pillars. We carried straight on towards the paddocks and were surprised to see a line of cars beside the path. A tractor and trailer were nearby laden with fenceposts and we could see a gang of people working around the small overgrown wet grass area on the other side of the path from the paddocks. Needless to say, there was a huge amount of noise – knocking posts in, chainsawing the posts, then the tractor started up – we could barely hear ourselves think!

Above all the racket, we could just about hear a Hawfinch calling from the trees in the paddocks. We just managed to get it in the scope before it flew off towards the trees. We thought we could still hear another Hawfinch calling from the hornbeams, but it was impossible to work out where the sound was coming from with all the din behind us. There was a Hawfinch distantly in the trees behind, and we did get that one in the scope and get a better look at its huge nutcracker of a bill. It was slightly silhouetted against the light, so we decided to head round the other side where the light would be better, but there was no sign of it when we got there. We watched and waited for a while – we could hear Hawfinches calling at first and two flew across between the trees, but then it all went quiet. We decided to walk back to the side of the paddocks to see if they had gone back there to feed again.

IMG_0719Kestrel – in the trees and on the wires round the paddocks as usual

Even though it was now much quieter, as the working party had now abandoned the fence posts and gone, there was no sign of the Hawfinches back in the hornbeams. We waited a while to see if they might be feeding down below, but we could neither see nor hear them here. There were a few other birds around. The usual Kestrel was on the wires and in the trees. A smart Mistle Thrush perched up in the top of one of the hornbeams and a Song Thrush was singing nearby. Several Redwings also flew up from the grass and landed in the bushes. A pair of Jays flew in and one perched up nicely for us.

IMG_0737Jay – a pair flew in to the trees in the paddocks

We decided to make our way back to the bridge, where a variety of birds were now coming in to enjoy the food put out for them. We had particularly nice views of a Marsh Tit which landed on the bridge close to us. The smart male Reed Bunting was back down on the food today – obviously the latest menu was more to its liking! We could hear the Little Grebes calling from the lake and see two of them diving for food out on the water. Then it was time to call it a day and head back.


19th March 2015 – Fen & Forest

A Private Tour today down in the Brecks. We wanted to visit a couple of different areas today, with a trip across into the Fens as well as some birding around the Forest. The forecast was for it to be grey and cold all day, but at least we avoided any rain and even saw some brief sunny intervals.

Our first stop was at Lakenheath Fen. As usual there was a lot of activity around the feeders, with a steady stream of tits and finches, mainly Chaffinches, Goldfinches and a couple of Greenfinches, and there were plenty of Reed Buntings in the bushes and reeds as well. We could hear Siskins and Redpolls calling, seemingly coming from the alders further along the path, but the latter had gone quiet by the time we got there and we only saw the Siskins as they flew off back towards the trees by the car park.

Reed BuntingReed Bunting – regular on the feeders at Lakenheath, here’s a recent photo

It was cold and windy up on the river bank at the Washland Viewpoint, and there is still a lot of water on Hockwold Washes. There was a good selection of wildfowl on view – Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler – and a gang of Tufted Duck on the river. We could see several Little Egrets, but no sign of the Great White Egret on here today. We had quite a lot of ground to cover if we wanted to explore the whole of the reserve this morning, so we didn’t linger too long and set off back round to the main path.

Out at the New Fen Viewpoint, the newly opened out areas of open water and cut reed look very promising, but on our first scan we couldn’t see much around the pools, a few duck, several Coot and a pair of sleeping Canada Geese. However, our attention was drawn to a very smart male Marsh Harrier hanging over the reeds further back, calling. We could see his pale silvery grey and black wingtips, and pale head and breast contrasting with rufous belly underneath. A female Marsh Harrier appeared from the reeds and started to circle below him, slightly larger than the male. The two then proceeded to mock talon grapple, the male dropping repeatedly towards the female, who would then turn upside down and raise her talons, classic Marsh Harrier display activity and great to watch. Spring is in the air and the breeding season is now upon us!

Another scan across the fen revealed a head come up out of the reeds. It had to be a tall bird and indeed it was – a Common Crane. We got it in the scope and had a great view – the black face and foreneck contrasting with white neck sides and the bright red patch on the top of the head. The bird kept bending down to feed, then stretching up again to look around.

IMG_0309Common Crane – a head appeared above the reeds

While we watched, a second head then appeared next to it, slightly smaller, not as tall as the first. They were a pair of Common Cranes, the smaller bird being the female. They were obviously in a small clearing in the reeds and made their way slowly across, briefly passing across behind a thin line of lower reeds where we could see more of them, before disappearing out of view again.

IMG_0315Common Cranes – a pair in the reeds together

That was a great start, so we continued out across the reserve to see what else we could find. There were lots of Cetti’s Warblers singing unseen from deep within the reeds, and plenty of Reed Buntings calling, but it is still a month or so yet before the reedbeds will come alive with the songs of the returning Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers. As we walked down towards the West Wood, we could hear Bearded Tits calling though. A male appeared briefly in the top of the reeds, but it was hard to pick up amongst all the seed heads blowing in the breeze and dropped down again all too quickly before we could get the scope onto it.

A Kingfisher was perched in the reeds across the pool in front of Mere Hide when we arrived. The glass windows are a bit dirty at the moment, with lots of greasy fingerprints, and when we tried to ease one open very quietly it unfortunately flew off round the corner out of view. However, we were glad we had the window open a few seconds later as it meant we had a great view of a cracking male Bearded Tit which flew across the water right below us.

As we approached the Joist Fen Viewpoint, we heard what sounded like a single boom from a Bittern. We stopped to see if we could hear it again, but annoyingly it had gone quiet again. We continued to listen from up at the viewpoint. Looking out across Joist Fen, there were several more Marsh Harriers circling over the reeds and a Cormorant standing on the tall post. We had a look in the paddock for any Cranes but all we could see in there today was a few Greylag Geese.

We turned round to scan the reeds behind again, just in time to see two enormous birds flying round the back of West Wood over the river. Two Common Cranes, perhaps the same two we had seen earlier on New Fen? Even better, they then turned slightly and headed straight for us, flying over the Viewpoint and almost over our heads! We had stunning views as they flew towards us in one of the rare moments of sunshine.

P1180992Common Crane – this pair flew over Joist Fen Viewpoint…

P1180995Common Crane – they came almost overhead at one point…

P1190012Common Crane – before dropping down into the reeds beyond

From there, we decided to have a quick look round from up on the river bank. The first white shape we looked at was a Mute Swan, but a second one further along was a Great White Egret. It was rather distant, and there was no real desire to walk further along for a better view, but through the scope we could see its long, dagger-shaped yellow bill when it stopped preening and raised its head briefly.

IMG_0338Great White Egret – visible distantly from the river bank

A Little Egret nearby was much more obliging, posing for photos before flying off over the bank the other side, where another three Little Egrets were seen flying around.

IMG_0331Little Egret – much more obliging!

That all made for a very successful early season look round the reserve this morning, particularly on such a grey day, so we made our way back to the Visitor Centre. Lakenheath Fen is a large reserve and it takes a bit of time to explore, so the morning was already all but gone by the time we headed off into the Forest.

The walk down one of the rides through the commercial pine plantations was fairly quiet as usual, until we were almost at the clearing. Then the distinctive ‘glip, glip’ call of Common Crossbills echoed through the trees. We had a scan of the sky above the ride ahead, but they obviously didn’t come our way and we couldn’t see them through the trees.

It was rather cold and exposed out in the clearing, and there was not much activity at first. A couple of Mistle Thrushes flew off as we arrived and a pair of Skylarks flew across and landed not far from us. We made our way across to the other side and could hear Woodlarks calling. One fluttered up across the back of the clearing briefly, singing rather half-heartedly  – and it seemed like that would be the sum total of their performance today. Fortunately, as we walked back round, another Woodlark flew up and perched on a post where we could get it in the scope and have a better look at its key distinguishing features. At that point, we heard the ‘glip, glip’ of Crossbills again and this time we saw them come flying across, over our heads and away over the trees beside us.

WoodlarkWoodlark – one perched on a post today, just like this recent photo

The raptors were rather subdued today, in the cold and grey weather, but we did see six Common Buzzards circle up over the trees at one point. It was not ideal weather for Goshawks, and with a lot to pack in today we decided not to wait here long. As we made our way back via a different route, we flushed another two pairs of Woodlarks from beside the path. One pair landed in a small clearing nearby, where we could see them creeping through the grass.

IMG_0347Woodlark – one of two pairs by the path on our way back

Our next destination was Grime’s Graves and the Great Grey Shrike was obligingly on view as usual, as soon as we arrived. It was a little distant at first, but easy to pick up. Even though rather small, a little shorter in length than a Blackbird and slighter in build, it really stood out as a bright white dot perched high in the top of a small bare tree. Through the scope, we could see more detail – the black bandit mask and black wings contrasting with the very pale silvery grey upperparts and bright white underneath.

The Great Grey Shrike flew across to the top of another taller tree and then seemed disinclined to do very much. It remained perched there for ages, looking round, not flying down to the ground repeatedly, looking for food, as it normally does. Having seen it so quickly, and not bad views through the scope, we decided we would move on. However, as we walked back it suddenly became more active again and started flying around between the bushes. It even had the decency to come much closer to us, and we had great views of it now from the path.

IMG_0387Great Grey Shrike – showed very well again, in the end

We drove round to Lynford Arboretum and walked out along the track, stopping by the gate to look at the feeders. Lots of seed was spread on the ground today, and the birds were mostly feeding on this rather than the fat balls. A steady stream of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits dropped down to forage in the leaves. There were plenty of Chaffinches but there has still been next to no sign of the Hawfinches using this area, so we didn’t stop here too long. We had a quick walk around the arboretum. There were several Goldcrests singing in the fir trees but very little else in here this afternoon. Down at the bridge, there was no food put out today so activity here was rather more limited than usual. However, a Marsh Tit appeared right in front of us, which was a nice addition to the day’s list.

Marsh TitMarsh Tit – one was by the bridge today, this photo from last year here

At this point we heard the news that 10 Hawfinches had been seen a little earlier around the paddocks, so we made our way down there to see if we could see them. There have been small numbers feeding in the paddocks on and off all winter, but generally no more than 3-4 (and sometimes just a single female), so this would be a very good number for here this year. It is not so long ago that it was possible to see 30+ Hawfinches here, but this is a species that has been declining everywhere, including at strongholds such as this.

As soon as we arrived we could hear Hawfinches calling, and we were just in time to see them all fly up from beneath the trees. Several small groups flew round in different directions, and we watched as one party of four flew off high away from us and disappeared into the distance. Thankfully others remained in the trees around the paddocks, or in the tops of the trees in the distance beyond, and we could hear Hawfinches calling everywhere, and see birds flitting around in the hornbeams or flying back and forth. At one point we managed to count nine in view at the same time, so assuming the four had not returned unseen that would imply at least thirteen.

Three Hawfinches flew across from one of the hornbeams to the trees by the lake, so we walked along to try to get a closer look at them. We could hear them calling, but unfortunately just at that moment a jogger came along the track towards us and we didn’t see which way they went. As we walked back to look in the paddocks again, six Hawfinches flew out in a group – but we couldn’t tell if the earlier three had flown back in to join them or not. They circled round and landed in the tops of the trees by the bridge. At the same time, at least one bird was still in the treetops beyond. It was great to see and hear so many around here today, but it was hard to know just how many there were, there was so much activity!

IMG_0465Hawfinch – a bright male

We walked down alongside the paddocks and a single Hawfinch was still calling from deep in the trees. As we stood a while, more started to fly back in and this time several perched up for a while in full view. We got them in the scope and got fantastic views of them now, both bright males and slightly duller brown females with less extensive black face masks around their still very hefty bills.

IMG_0419Hawfinch – a slightly duller brown female

In between all the Hawfinch excitement, we found a little time to look at some of the other birds here. The Little Grebes were cackling away as usual on the lake. The Kestrel was flying around the paddocks, perching up on the wires again. A flock of Redwings flew up from the damp edge of the paddocks to perch up in the alders by the lake. We had a walk round to the end of the paddocks, and it was getting late in the afternoon now. With a long drive home ahead, we had a request to call it a day, so made our way back to the car park.

However, we were still not completely finished. On our way back over the bridge, we could hear a Hawfinch calling and looked up to see one perched in up in the trees beside the lake. We couldn’t resist a final look at it in the scope, before it flew off back across the paddocks. A great way to end the day, after such a fantastic Hawfinch performance.

IMG_0500Hawfinch – bidding us farewell, as we walked back to the car