11th June 2023 – Early Summer, Day 3

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Day 3 of a 3-day Summer Tour, our last day. It was a hot & sunny day, with the temperature touching 30C in the afternoon, such a contrast to our first day. We headed down to the Brecks today.

We travelled in convoy for the first past of the journey, leaving cars in Swaffham for those who would be heading off tonight so as to save time later. Then all aboard the minibus, we headed into the Forest. We parked at the start of a ride by a clearing and as soon as we got out of the minibus we could hear a Tree Pipit singing. We could see it song flighting over the far side, fluttering up and parachuting down to the young trees.

Tree Pipit – singing from the top of a pine

As we walked round for a closer look, a Yellowhammer flew across the track in front of us. When we got to the other side, the Tree Pipit was singing from the top of the pines on the edge of the clearing. We found an angle from which we had a clear view, but we had only just got it in the scope when it parachuted back down into the grass and disappeared. It was not long before it flew back up again, singing, and up to the top of the pines again. Again, it didn’t stay long enough to get everyone on to it in the scope, but thankfully when it flew up a third time, this time it stayed there singing and we all got great views of it. Then when it dropped down again, it landed on the top of a small tree in the clearing, where we had a nice look at it face on, getting a good view of its creamy yellow streaked breast and cleaner white underparts.

We could hear a Woodlark singing quietly, and looked over to see two fly up out of the clearing and off over the trees. A Coal Tit and a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew over. A Siskin flew out of the pines fluttering its wings in song flight and a second flew over calling. We could hear a Cuckoo calling in the distance too. One of the Yellowhammers was singing from the top of the pines on the corner of the block as we walked back.

Yellowhammer – singing from the top of a pine

From here, we drove on down to Weeting Heath. Having checked in at the Visitor Centre, we made our way straight out to West Hide. Four Stone Curlews were out on the cultivated area in front of the hide, the two adults with their almost fully grown juveniles. Apparently they were officially due to fledge in the next couple of days. We watched them walking round in the open before the juveniles decided to shelter under the trolley with the batteries for the nest camera! Great views.

Stone Curlews – seeking shade

There was a pair of Oystercatchers in the cultivated area too, one appeared possibly on a nest, along with several Lapwings. Scanning across the heath, we noticed a fifth Stone Curlew, another adult, much further back. We could hear a regular (non-Stone) Curlew calling from somewhere behind us.

Out of the hide, we stopped on the path to look and listen but there was no sign of any Spotted Flycatchers – they have been tricky this year so far. We continued on down to the end, and looked out over the road from the gate, where we could see the head of a Curlew sticking out of the long grass. We had a look in at the Woodland Hide – a Yellowhammer was down in the grass when we arrived and a succession of tits and finches flew in and out to the feeders or to drink and bathe in the small pool.

Our destination for the rest of the day was Lakenheath Fen. We parked in the car park and as we walked up towards the Visitor Centre, we stopped to listen to a mixed-singing Willow Warbler, throwing in bits of Chiffchaff into its song. A Common Whitethroat perched in the top of one of the birches singing.

It was getting very hot already, so we had a rest at New Fen Viewpoint, looking out across the pool and reeds. A Little Grebe swam across and a Coot was feeding its young down on the water in front of us. A couple of Marsh Harriers circled up distantly over West Wood. Continuing on, it was very humid along the path through the reeds. The warblers were a bit subdued in the heat of the day – we heard snippets of Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler. A female Marsh Harrier circled over the reeds closer now and a lone Cuckoo flew over. There are normally a lot of dragonflies along here but there were surprisingly few today – maybe the impact of the recent cold weather.

Little Grebe – swam across

We pressed on to Joist Fen, stopping to admire a few Great Crested Grebes on the pools, including two well-grown, stripy-headed juveniles. It was time for lunch when we arrived at the viewpoint, so we sat down to eat in the shade. There were several Marsh Harriers circling up further back and at least three Hobbys, one for a while hunting over the pool in the middle of the reeds. A Cuckoo was calling in the distance.

Hobby – one of at least three

Several Reed Warblers flitted back and forth around the pool in front and a Cetti’s Warbler flew across. A Kingfisher flashed out from behind the trees to the right, over the reeds and disappeared into the channel before flying back again a few mins later. A pair of Cranes flew in over the railway, but turned and flew away from us, dropping down in front of the distant trees.

Eventually we saw a Bittern fly up, only briefly, across the track behind us before dropping down again, but there was rather little Bittern activity this afternoon – they are normally busier at this time of year, with the females making regular feeding flights. We had just finished lunch, when another Bittern came up from the reeds at the back of the small pool right in front of us. It had obviously been hiding in there all along! We watched it flew off away over the reeds. We waited a bit to see if it might come back in to feed, but there was no further sign.

Great Crested Grebe – adult feeding juvenile

We decided to start making out way slowly back. We broke the journey at Mere Hide, where it was nice out of the sun, with a gentle breeze through the open windows. A family of Great Crested Grebes was on the pool, the two juveniles initially with the female in the weeds while the male was diving on its own off to our right. After a while, the female swam with the juveniles towards the male, catching small fish and them copying her diving. The male swam over and took over childcare duty, while the female swam out into the pool and started fishing, coming up with an enormous fish. We didn’t know how it managed to swallow it!

Great Crested Grebe – with big fish

There were more dragonflies here, flying back and forth over the water in front of the hide, several Four-spotted Chasers and a couple of large electric blue Emperors, and a male Scarce Chaser perched on the reeds. Lots of damselflies too, including a few Red-eyed Damselflies – we could see their red eyes when they landed.

Red-eyed Damselfly – with red eyes

There had been a Kingfisher on one of the posts earlier, apparently, but there was no sign now. But a photographer in the hide spotted a Bittern flying in from the left and we had a great view as it did a long flypast, right across in front of us, before disappearing off to our right.

Bittern – long flight past

We could have spent more time in the hide, but it was time to head back now. We were hot by the time we got back to the Visitor Centre and we stopped for another very welcome ice cream break – several flavours were sampled again! We had thought we might have a quick look at the Washland, but we met someone who had been out earlier and had seen nothing. The water level is still very high apparently. Everyone was tired out after the walk too, so we decided to call it a day.

It had been a very enjoyable three days (and an evening!), with some great birds, and interesting butterflies and other wildlife.

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