Tag Archives: Weeting Heath

6th June 2018 – Heath, Fen & Forest

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

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

Stone Curlew

Stone Curlew – one of several on show this morning

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

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

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

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

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


Nuthatch – coming in regularly to the feeders

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

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

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

Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly – among the many Azure Damselflies by the path

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

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

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser – a male resting on a reed leaf

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

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


Hobby – hawking for insects almost over our heads

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

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

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

Great Crested Grebes

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

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

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

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


Bittern – perched up in the reeds at New Fen

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

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

Grey Wagtail

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

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

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

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

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

Small Heath

Small Heath – there were lots in the grass today

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

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

Spotted Flycatcher

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

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

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

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit – singing from the wires again

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

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

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


3rd June 2018 – Early Summer, Day 3

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

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

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

Stone Curlews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cuckoo – flying in and out of the bushes, singing

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

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

Four-spotted Chaser

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

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

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


Hobby – chasing dragonflies over the reeds in front of us

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

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

Great Crested Grebe

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Large Skipper

Large Skipper – there were lots more butterflies out this afternoon

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

Tree Pipit

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

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

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

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

18th July 2015 – Basking in the Brecks

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today, and we headed down to the Brecks for a day of Stone Curlews, Cranes & Bitterns. It certainly lived up to billing, on a lovely sunny day with just enough of a fresh breeze to stop it getting too hot.

We met in north Norfolk and headed south. We made a quick stop off on the way down to see if we could find any Stone Curlews. As well as the heathland remnants in the Brecks, many pairs nest in farmland in the surrounding countryside. However, they can be easier to see earlier in the year here, before the crops get so high. Their favoured fields were also very disturbed this morning with farming activity – several tractors and people walking around – so we moved swiftly on. We did have two Red Kites circling low over our heads.

P1050667Red Kite – one of two which came low overhead this morning

Our first destination proper was Lakenheath Fen. It was already getting warm by the time we got there. Warbler activity is significantly lower at this time of the year compared to the spring – yet we still heard a couple of Whitethroats, a Blackcap, and several Reed and Sedge Warblers as we walked out along the path into the reserve.

New Fen appeared very quiet initially as well, with little in view except a couple of juvenile Coots. Then a shrill call alerted us to an incoming Kingfisher. It flew in and landed initially on the perch right in front of the viewpoint, but unfortunately it saw us and decided not to linger there. Still, it landed again on the reeds a little further back across the pool and we had great views of it in the scope. It dropped into the water with a splash and came up with a fish in its bill. Not stopping, it flew off into the trees behind us in a flash of electric blue – it obviously still has young in the nest to feed. Then a second Kingfisher appeared on the pool.

IMG_6984Kingfisher – several birds were fishing around New Fen today

It was while we were watching the Kingfisher, that we suddenly heard crashing in in the reeds right in front of us. The next thing we knew, a Bittern flew out! It only flew a few metres and landed again on the edge of the reeds. It stood there for a second, looking around, then tried to walk into the reeds. It was obviously not easy going because it stopped, had another look round and decided it needed to persevere, and then finally pushed its way into the vegetation and out of view. Fantastic views and a great start. A short while later, another Bittern flew over the back of New Fen and dropped down into the reeds.

P1050675Bittern – landed on the edge of the reeds in front of us…

P1050676…tried to push its way in, before having second thoughts…

P1050681…had another look round before finally working its way out of view.

There were several Reed Warblers singing around the pool. They can be very good mimics and one in particular began each burst of song with a convincing copy of a Bearded Tit pinging. Finally, as we were about to leave, a Bearded Tit proper appeared, flying across the pool, but it disappeared quickly into the reeds on the island.

P1050690Ruddy Darter – a female

We headed on across the reserve. There were lots of dragonflies in the vegetation along the edge of the path – Brown & Southern Hawkers, Black-tailed Skimmers and Ruddy Darters, plus Blue-tailed, Common Blue & Azure Damselflies. There were plenty of butterflies too – Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Gatekeepers, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells, Commas and a single Small Copper.

P1050698Small Copper – one of many butterflies around the reserve today

As we walked along the main path past the West Wood, a glance to the north and we caught sight of four Cranes circling up from the fields the other side of river. There are two pairs of Cranes at Lakenheath Fen and both have fledged young this year – one pair raised two, and the other one chick. This is great news as they had struggled to raise any in the last couple of years. We presumed that this was one of the two families flying but they quickly disappeared from view behind the trees.

From the Joist Fen Viewpoint we could see several Marsh Harriers circling out over the reeds, and it was also good to see several juveniles amongst them. It was while we were watching these that one of the group spotted a Bittern flying behind us, from the reeds over towards the West Wood. We all got onto it and had great views as it set off on a very long flight, all the way along the river bank and out across Joist Fen almost to the far west end. As it got near to its destination, we could see a second Bittern flying round in the same area. The two landed in much the same place – the first bird dropping in shortly after, where we had seen the first disappear.

P1050713Marsh Harrier – this smart male flew past us on the river bank

After a brief sit down at the Joist Fen Viewpoint, we climbed up onto the river bank to see if we could see the Cranes again. We walked along slowly, scanning the fields across on the other side of the river which the Cranes favour, but at first there was no sign – it looked like the four Cranes we had seen earlier might have continued flying. We were just about to give up when one of the group spotted a head amongst the tall vegetation. We got the scopes onto it, and gradually saw more heads come up. We could see that at least one juvenile was amongst them, but it was only when we eventually saw two juvenile heads up at the same time that we could confirm this was the family of four Cranes. They were a little distant, but we still got good views of them through the scopes.

With that target achieved, we set off on the walk back. We were just about to drop down from the river bank back onto the reserve when we noticed three more Cranes flying away from us, over the fields on the other side of the river. They landed several fields over, rather a long way off but we could still see that there were two adults and a single juvenile – the second Crane family. It was great to be able to see all seven of Lakenheath’s Cranes today!

We had a quick look in at New Fen on the way back, but there was no sign of the Bittern in the reeds around the pool. A Kingfisher was still fishing around the reed edge. We were almost back to the Visitor Centre, when we caught a very brief snatch of Grasshopper Warbler song. We stopped and heard it again a couple of times, but it was rather quiet, possibly distant, and unfortunately we couldn’t see any sign of it in the bushes. A little further along, a Weasel ran ahead of us along the path.

After lunch, we headed over to Weeting Heath. We could hear Stone Curlews calling as soon as we got out of the car. Round at the hide, we could immediately see several Stone Curlews out in the grass. A single adult was  together with two well-grown juveniles a little further over towards the ridge, but then we noticed two adults on the cultivated area not far from the front of the hide. Even better, it clouded over just a little, just enough to relieve the heat haze which is an ever present at this site. We got the scopes on them and had great views, admiring their somewhat prehistoric appearance and staring pale iris.

IMG_7016Stone Curlew – great views at Weeting Heath today

Having admired the closest Stone Curlews preening and walking slowly through the grass, they sat down and merged into the vegetation. We then had time to scan the rest of the grass and could see several more birds scattered across the ridge further over. We counted at least nine Stone Curlews here today, including the juveniles – there are three pairs on site and some young have already fledged. It was great to see the Stone Curlews so well, but unfortunately the Firecrests and Spotted Flycatchers here both appear to have fledged their young in the last couple of weeks and the pines were rather quiet, so we didn’t spend long here.

Next we headed into the Forest and walked out along one of our favourite rides. It was a bit hotter in the afternoon, and there was less benefit from the breeze in the shelter of the trees. Perfect conditions for butterflies and there were lots on the flowers along the sides of the track. It was nice to see both Small & Essex Skippers, a few Small Heath and several more Small Copper.

P1050731Small Skipper – head on, showing the diagnostic pale antenna tips

In a large clearing, we immediately saw lots of activity around the overgrown, rowed up tree stumps. Perched on the very top of the stumps, we could see a male and female Stonechat. In amongst them, we could see a couple of Yellowhammers, Whitethroats and two Tree Pipits.

We walked round to the other side to get a closer look. As well as the male & female Stonechats, we could also see at least two juveniles. They were trying to hide more in the vegetation, less inclined to perch on the tops than the adults. However, on closer inspection we could see that the juvenile Stonechats were colour ringed, part of an ongoing ringing programme in the Brecks.

IMG_7028Stonechat – one of two colour-ringed juveniles in the clearing

The Tree Pipits had been chasing each other around and had appeared to fly off. As we walked around the edge of the clearing, we flushed one from beside the path. It flew off calling with a loud ‘speezz’, into the pine trees where it sat for a few seconds before dropping back into the grass and out of view. While we were watching the Stonechats, one of the Tree Pipits suddenly appeared back with them, perched on a stump below them and half hidden from view. When the Stonechats moved off, it flew up to the top and started to preen, giving us a great look. We could see a pale spot on the face, the yellowing wash behind the bolder streaking across the breast and the very fine streaking on the flanks.

IMG_7053Tree Pipit – perched up on a stump once the Stonechats had moved on

We just had time for one last and very brief stop on our way back, so we popped into Lynford Arboretum. A Treecreeper was calling in the car park but it was rather quiet in the trees,in the heat of a sunny summer afternoon. A couple of Siskin flew overhead calling. Down by the bridge, there was a bit more activity. We came across a big mixed tit flock, and watched it for a while in the alders. There were lots of Long-tailed Tits, plus Blue, Great and Coal Tits, several Treecreepers and a Nuthatch as the flock moved through. We could also hear a Goldcrest singing. We didn’t really have time to do the site justice today and all too soon it was time to call it a day and head for home.

10th April 2015 – Basking in Brecks Sunshine

Another Brecks Tour today, the last of our scheduled early spring tours to the Thetford Forest area. It was a glorious day of hazy sunshine.

We started at Lynford Arboretum. A Firecrest was singing in the car park as soon as we got out of the car. We picked it up first high in the fir trees, where it was difficult to get everyone onto it, but then it dropped down into a deciduous tree which was only just coming into leaf. Much better! There were lots of other birds in the trees – a Mistle Thrush perched in the top of a larch, a Nuthatch piping from high up in a conifer, several Siskin zipping around the tops calling, and several species of tit.

We walked up to the gate, but there was very little feeding down among the leaves today. No sign of any Brambling – perhaps they have departed in the clear weather over the last few days – just a few Chaffinch. The feeders were empty as well. And no sign of any Hawfinch, so we headed off round the Arboretum.

Another Firecrest was singing in its usual place. This male has been chasing a Goldcrest around for some time now, but today they seemed to have reached a truce. At times, they were feeding close to each other though, almost like a pair. We got a good look at the Firecrest – the striking black and white face stripes and the bronzey patch on the side of the neck. It was also a great opportunity to look more closely at the differences compared to the Goldcrest nearby.

P1020906Firecrest – the same bird photographed recently

We walked on round the Arboretum and stopped to listen to another two singing Firecrests, one on either side of the path. While we were standing there, we heard the distinctive electric ‘ticking’ call of a Hawfinch and two flew over our heads and back towards the gate. We turned to follow them and hadn’t gone very far when they flew back again and disappeared in the direction of Lynford Hall. We could see the short-tailed, heavy front-ended body shape and the translucent white wing bar, but that was it.

A little further on along the path, we heard more ‘ticking’ and a female Hawfinch flew across right in front of us and into a fir tree. Unfortunately, it was too quick for everyone to get on it as it flew. Even worse, we could see it perched deep in the tree but it was impossible to get all the group onto it and it didn’t stay long enough to get the scope on it. Very frustrating!

We looped back round through the Arboretum via the gate, but it was all still quiet under the trees. It was such a lovely morning we decided to move on and try for Goshawk.

We parked up and walked down a ride into the forest. We hadn’t gone far when we heard yet another Firecrest singing from some young fir trees beside the path. We could see two birds flicking around in the trees, presumably a pair, but it was too thick in there to see them well. A little further on and a Woodlark flew high over the trees and across the ride, singing.

We continued on until we came to a large clearing. It was warm, with mostly blue skies and patchy cloud, but the sunshine was a bit hazy. However, despite the nice weather, there were absolutely no raptors circling up above the trees. We stood and watched for a minute or two, but nothing appeared. So we decided to do a quick circuit of the clearing.

A short distance across, we could hear a Woodlark call and it suddenly appeared from just a short distance in front of us. We watched it circle round, noting its short tail. When it tried to land on a fence post, two more Woodlarks appeared and chased it off, the three of them circling overhead, before the first flew out of their range. When it landed, we had a good look at it in the scope.

Then we walked a little further on and the pair of Woodlark flew up in front of us and landed along the edge of the path. We had great views of them as they fed quietly along the verge – noting the pale supercilia meeting in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of the neck and the distinctive black and white markings on the edge of the wings. We could see they were collecting food and after several minutes they flew past us with their bills full, and landed out in the clearing. Presumably they have young already out there.

IMG_3982Woodlark – the pair were collecting food today

The skies were still quiet, but a quick scan of the treeline produced a glimpse of a Goshawk disappearing behind a bank of trees. It was all too quick to get anyone else onto it, and it didn’t reappear. With the general lack of raptor activity, it felt like that might be our only chance. Even more frustrating! But then our luck changed. We had almost given up when it reappeared further round, circling low over the trees behind us. An adult male Goshawk, we could see its pale grey upperparts and whitish underparts, and we got a good sense of its size so close to the trees, before it dropped down out of view.

That opened the flood gates. A Common Buzzard circled up, closely followed by a second. Pretty soon there were several Buzzards up in the sky, in all directions. A young Sparrowhawk circled up in tight spirals and disappeared into the sky. Then another Goshawk appeared over the back of the clearing, this time a young male (in its 2nd calendar year) – browner grey above and orange-toned and streaked below. It circled up for a while, finding a thermal under a Buzzard and giving us a good size comparison, before it drifted off left across the clearing.

That seemed good enough but then, as we were watching a couple of Common Buzzards circle up, yet another Goshawk appeared with them. This one was another adult male – again, with pale grey upperparts and very whitish underparts. We watched it spiral up lazily for ages, with barely a flap of its wings. It already seemed to have its white undertail coverts puffed out and, once it had gained sufficient height, it started displaying – stooping down, closing its wings to swoop back up, and then flapping its wings slowly and deeply in an exaggerated fashion at the top of the climb. It did this repeatedly for a minute or so, in a series of swoops, before turning and dropping down quickly back into the trees. Great to watch.

After that fantastic display, we decided to head for the car. We drove back and found a convenient car park in the forest for lunch. Then it was on to Lakenheath Fen for the first stop of the afternoon. We didn’t have time to explore the whole reserve today, but we wanted to have a quick look at Hockwold Washes. We paused to admire all the Reed Buntings around the feeders by the visitor centre.

P1030119Reed Bunting – on the feeders, with incoming Blue Tit!

There were lots of ducks on view from the Washland viewpoint – Shelduck, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler and Tufted Duck. A very smart pair of Great Crested Grebe swam back and forth along the river. A Kingfisher flashed past over the water. A pair of Marsh Harriers circled up distantly over the reserve. But there was no sign of the Great White Egret or the Garganey today. No sign either of any hirundines moving along the river. It was lovely up by the Washes in the sunshine, but we wanted to see some more birds, so we moved on.

We decided to stop at Weeting Heath next. By the entrance to the West Hide, the Long-tailed Tit nest has made good progress since our last visit.

P1030128Long-tailed Tit nest – well camouflaged in the ivy

From the hide, it didn’t take us long to find a Stone Curlew. A good scan produced four, though all a little distant over on the ridge. They were also all asleep, or at least resting. We had a good look at them through the scope and then a wider scan produced yet another Stone Curlew closer to us out to the left of the hide. It was trying to sleep as well! Eventually, one of the more distant Stone Curlews did at least get up and walk around for a bit, before sitting back down again.

IMG_4001Stone Curlew – trying to sleep, or pretend to be a stone

On the way back to the car, we stopped to watch a Treecreeper which perched up on the wooden wall of the visitor centre. A closer look and we could see that it was struggling with an absurdly large twig. It dropped to the ground and let go of the stick, before picking it up and trying again. Finally, at its third attempt, it managed to carry the stick up and both bird and burden disappeared behind the NWT sign on the centre wall!

P1030139Treecreeper – carry a big stick!

We were keen to try to see a Hawfinch better, so headed back to Lynford Arboretum before the finish for a last walk round. The Firecrests were still singing, but there was nothing but a few Chaffinches and Siskin down on the ground from the gate.

As we walked round in the Arboretum, we could hear the ‘ticking’ of a Hawfinch once again. But as before, the two birds flew off over our heads as we approached. We walked over in the direction they had come, and again they flew overhead and away towards Lynford Hall. At least we had more flight views.

We decided to explore round the paddocks as a final fling. As we walked down towards the lake, a couple of Grey Wagtails flew over calling. A Little Grebe was hiding among the reeds on the water. Walking out beside the paddocks, a couple of Marsh Tits scolded us from the hedge. At the end, we stopped to admire a Nuthatch piping loudly from an Oak tree.

We walked back round and there was no sign either of the Hawfinches in the trees they like to visit before going to roost – with the evenings drawing out and the clocks having changed, perhaps it was still too early. It just felt like it was not going to be our day. We had packed up and started to leave when we heard them. More ‘ticking’ and two Hawfinches flew in to the trees overhead. We got them in the scope and everyone had a really good look, a male and female, admiring their whopping great bills and chunky heads. Then they dropped down out of view. Wow. Nothing like leaving it to the last minute. What a great way to finish.

IMG_4006Hawfinch – this pair appeared just as we were giving up