Tag Archives: Weeting

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.

26th June 2015 – Hot in the Brecks

A Summer Tour to the Brecks today. It was a little overcast with a light breeze, but bright and warm first thing – perfect birding weather! However, the sun came out and it warmed up a lot in the afternoon.

We met up in Mundford and headed over to our first stop at Weeting Heath. Walking through the trees, we could hear Goldcrests and Coal Tits calling, and a Nuthatch appeared in the trees above the path briefly. We walked over to where we had found the Spotted Flycatcher nest a couple of weeks ago and could immediately see the birds flashing through the trees. They were moving about so fast , it was hard to get everyone onto them. Then one of the parents dropped down to the nest almost unseen and, after a lightning feed, flew off again.

P1030608Spotted Flycatcher – the nest with nestlings, amongst the ivy

Eventually the Spotted Flycatchers settled down a little. One flew in and perched up for a minute or so right in front of us with food, before dropping back onto the nest. Much better views!

P1030637Spotted Flycatcher – the adults eventually gave great views

While we were standing watching the Spotted Flycatchers, we could hear a Firecrest singing in the pines above us. After a bit of scanning we managed to find it, but the views from directly underneath were not that illuminating! Thankfully, it dropped down to another tree a little further away and we could get a good look at its head pattern. It continued singing for much of the time we were admiring the flycatchers.

Round at the hide, it didn’t take us long to pick up a Stone Curlew. One in particular came quite close today and, with the breeze and cloud, there wasn’t so much heat haze so we got good views of them. There were another two a little further over and a fourth just over the ridge at the back, but some of the vegetation has grown up a lot and it was hard to see if there were any more. There was a lot of Stone Curlew calling while we were there as well, which was good to hear why they got their English name (given that all the other members of the family are known as Thick-Knees).

IMG_6334Stone Curlew – good views at Weeting today, and calling as well

With one of our main targets for the day in the bag already, and a great supporting cast, we moved on to our next destination, Lakenheath Fen. There were lots of warblers singing as we walked out onto the reserve – Whitethroats perching up nicely on the bushes and song-flighting, the very melodic Blackcaps in the trees, Reed Warblers appropriately enough in the reeds and Cetti’s Warblers lurking unseen in the undergrowth.

The view from the New Fen viewpoint was a little quiet at first, but it didn’t take long to hot up. A Kingfisher called from the trees behind us and then flashed out over the water before perching up in the top of the reeds the other side. We got it in the scope and got a great look at it. It dropped down into the water a few times, but then returned back to a different spot in the top of the reeds empty-billed. Finally it decided to try its luck elsewhere and disappeared off over the reeds in a flash of electric blue.

IMG_6362Kingfisher – fishing from the reeds around New Fen

We were just thinking about moving on when a shout alerted us to a Bittern flying over the reeds. It circled round and flew leisurely away from us along one of the channels before dropping down out of sight. Great stuff.

There was a light breeze blowing which kept the temperature and humidity down this morning, but the dragonflies were also a little subdued. We did see a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers, and there were lots of damselflies alongside the path, mostly Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

P1030655Blue-tailed Damselfly – abundant at Lakenheath Fen

As we walked out past the West Wood, we saw our first Marsh Harriers of the day, a female circling at first and then a male, which flew towards her and seemed as if he might be about to make a food pass, save for the absence of any food! Instead, he took a little swerve towards her with talons down and she took evasive action. There were lots of Reed Warblers and a few Sedge Warblers singing, and a couple of Reed Buntings as well.

IMG_6368Reed Bunting – lots of singing still today

Out at the Joist Fen viewpoint, we could see a couple more adult Marsh Harriers circling. A quick scan over the bushes revealed two juveniles sat in an elder bush. They looked very dark blackish, the colour of dark chocolate, with contrasting orangey heads. A little further round we saw a female which appeared to be trying to get another juvenile to fly. It had a quick circle round before dropping back down into the reeds beside her, obviously not too impressed by the lesson. It is fledging time for the Marsh Harriers.

While we were watching them, a Hobby appeared. It was catching insects above the reeds, occasionally bringing its feet up and bending its head down to devour something. Occasionally, it would sweep fast down into one of the pools of channels out of view, presumably chasing dragonflies. At the same time, another Bittern flew over the reeds away from us, but it was not up long enough to get everyone onto it, before it dropped back in out of view.

P1030681Banded Demoiselle – lots were along the river

We headed up onto the river bank next, to see if we could see any Cranes. There were lots of Banded Demoiselles amongst the plants on the bank and out along the edge of the water. However, we walked some way along the path and we couldn’t see any Cranes. They just didn’t appear to be in their usual area, no matter how hard we looked, nor anywhere else in view. The vegetation has grown up a lot over the past few weeks, which doesn’t help. Eventually we had to turn back – a shame to miss them.

On our way we stopped to admire a Sedge Warbler. We had heard a couple on our walk out, but this one really performed for the assembled crowd. It kept returning to the same little clump of reeds, belting out its song. We got it in the scope and got a really good look at it, particularly the bold white supercilium.

IMG_6376Sedge Warbler – we have a lot to thank this one for…

If it hadn’t been for that Sedge Warbler we would have walked on. While we were looking at it through the scope, a last scan of the reeds behind us revealed a long neck hidden among the reeds. It just came up a little for a second, so we swung the scope round and there was a Crane. Finally! Despite it being obscured, we could see the black and white face and red on the crown. We couldn’t see its partner or chick, but that was not a surprise given the amount of vegetation it was in. The fact it was still there, feeding quietly, suggests all is well. For a bird which stands over a metre tall, it is amazing how they can hide!

IMG_6387Crane – we managed to find a head among the reeds, just as we were leaving

Satisfied, we headed back. It was a hot walk back to the visitor centre – the sun had come out by now and the wind had dropped.

After lunch, we moved on to have a look in the Forest. We parked up and walked down a ride to one of our favourite clearings. It was a little quiet at first, in the heat of the day, but as we looked we gradually started to see a few birds. A smart male Stonechat perched up on the top of some brambles. We could hear it calling, sounding like two flints knocked together, from where it gets its name. There were also a few Yellowhammers around the clearing, looking resplendent in the sunshine.

IMG_6395Stonechat – a smart male, sounding like two stones knocked together

Another bird appeared in the top of a small pine nearby, altogether slimmer and more elegant. A Tree Pipit. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. It was half-singing quietly, but it obviously didn’t feel up to song-flighting in the heat of the afternoon.

IMG_6402Tree Pipit – half singing, quietly

There were several Linnets flying round the clearing as well. A Sparrowhawk appeared overhead and they all flew off, calling. Then a Cuckoo started singing from the trees at the back. A careful scan and we found it sitting high in a larch tree. We could also hear several Skylarks, and found one perched up on a dead stump, but no sign of any Woodlarks today.

The other nice thing here was the number of butterflies. There were lots of skippers all over the Viper’s Bugloss flowers beside the path – mostly Small Skippers but a couple of Large Skippers as well. We could also see a couple of Common Blue, a few Small Heath and lots of Meadow Brown.

P1030697Small Skipper – lots around the woodland clearings today

We still had time for one last stop before the end of the day. Lynford Arboretum was almost on our way, so we stopped in there for a quick look round. Not surprisingly, it was a little quiet in the heat of the afternoon. There were lots of Siskin flying around overhead, though rarely stopping. We saw Goldcrest, Nuthatch and a few tits, and we heard a couple of Treecreepers and a Marsh Tit calling. We flushed a couple of Song Thrush from the ground in the arboretum. Down by the lake, we found a couple of Little Grebes. However, we didn’t really have time to do it justice today, and all too soon it was time to call it a day.

25th July 2014 – Hot in the Brecks!

It was a scorcher of a day for a tour to the Brecks today, looking for Bitterns, Cranes and Stone Curlews. We started at Weeting Heath, getting there early to avoid the heat haze. We were rewarded with a very good number of Stone Curlews – at least 11 adults or fully fledged young birds were on the Heath. Suddenly, the ‘stones’ next to one of them moved, and a couple of recently hatched young birds appeared, large balls of fluff with very long necks – cute! A Stoat ran across the grass at one point, causing a bit of a commotion, but was chased off by a Rabbit – surely the wrong way round?

From there, we moved on to Lakenheath Fen. At the visitor centre a Red Underwing moth had decided to ‘hide’ for the day on one of the windows, which was not great camouflage. On the walk out to the Washland viewpoint, we could hear lots of Reed Warblers calling and a single Cetti’s singing. Hockwold Washes was awash with Mute Swans, Great Crested & Little Grebes and Common Terns. However, there was no sign here of the Great White Egret seen in the last few days.

P1080152Red Underwing moth – not very camouflaged on a window!

Heading out onto the reserve itself, we were treated to a fantastic display by the resident Kingfishers at New Fen. The male returned repeatedly, perching up around the reeds, hovering and catching fish. There were lots of Marsh Harriers over the reserve, including several dark chocolate juveniles, one still trying to beg for food from its parents without success. Other raptors we saw included Hobby, Sparrowhawk and a family of Kestrels. Lots of Bearded Tits were heard, but we had to content ourselves with quick flight views as they refused to perch up in the breeze.

We headed out onto the riverbank, and we quickly picked up a pair of Common Cranes on the other (Norfolk!) side of the river. Unfortunately, both breeding pairs failed this year, and since then they have been spending much of their time in the fields over the river. We thought there were only two, until we found a third standing with some Greylag Geese and then a fourth on its own. We got great scope views as they fed in the fields or stood around preening.

IMG_1405Common Crane – four birds were in the fields over the river today

While we were standing on the bank, a glance further west along the river revealed a large white shape in the distance – the Great White Egret! We managed to get a quick look through the scope before it flew up and disappeared into the fields. Just as we were leaving, having spent some time admiring the Cranes, it suddenly appeared again and flew round past us, giving us great flight views before dropping into Joist Fen. The Bitterns were not as accommodating today, though we did get a couple of birds briefly in flight, unfortunately it was not long enough to get everyone on them.

P1080182Great White Egret – very big, and the long yellow/orange bill gives it away

As usual, there was a good selection of dragonflies and butterflies at Lakenheath. Lots of Brown Hawkers were on the wing, together with a couple of Southern & Migrant Hawkers. We also saw both Ruddy & Common Darters and a selection of damselflies including lots of Banded Demoiselles. A single Painted Lady was the highlight of the butterflies.

P1080162Ruddy Darter – lots of these and smaller numbers of Commons todayP1080156Banded Demoiselle – this female posed for the camera

After a late lunch, we headed over to Lynford Arboretum, to seek some shelter from the sun amongst the trees. Despite the heat, we saw loads of birds – Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Goldcrests and a variety of tits. A family of Spotted Flycatchers was in one of the quieter corners, the adults returning repeatedly to feed a stub-tailed juvenile which sat begging in the trees. The highlight was a pair of Firecrests. A brief snippet of song alerted us to their presence, but they were reluctant to show themselves at first, only coming out with a bit of encouragement (some ‘squeaking’) but then hopping around with vivid orange & yellow crests spread. Such cracking birds and a great way to wrap up the day.