15th June 2022 – Summer Tour, Day 3

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Day 3 of a three day Summer Tour. It was a bright, sunny day and the heat built through the morning and into the afternoon, reaching 25C early pm. We spent the day down in the Brecks and the Fens.

It was a slow drive down to The Brecks this morning, not helped by some roadworks in Swaffham with poorly sited traffic lights which was causing a big tailback. We eventually got to Weeting Heath just as the Visitor Centre was about to open, so we made our way straight down towards West Hide. We stopped to look at a tit flock high in the pines – Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits accompanied by a Treecreeper. Then we noticed a Spotted Flycatcher flick out and land in one of the trees by the path. It remained motionless for a couple of seconds then disappeared back deeper in to the trees.

From the hide, we quickly located several Stone Curlews, two adults and two juveniles, the latter well grown now. They were all sitting down among the clods of earth and low vegetation and hard to see initially, but we got the scope on them. One adult and one of the juveniles were more obvious, but the others disappeared completely until they stood up. When they did, we had a much better view, and we were early enough that the heat haze was not too bad yet.

Stone Curlew – one of the four

Five regular (Eurasian) Curlew flew in calling and landed in the grass at the back and there were several Lapwings scattered about too. When the Stone Curlews all sat down again, we decided to move on. After popping in to the Visitor Centre which was now open, to admire some of the moths which had been trapped by the warden and were chilling in the fridge, we made our way round to Lakenheath Fen next.

On the walk out, once again the brambles were full of butterflies, Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals, one or two Painted Ladys and a Comma, which was a welcome addition to the trip butterfly list. We moved a very big Drinker moth caterpillar off the path into the neighbouring vegetation. There were dragonflies in the reeds too, including an over mature female Scarce Chaser (with hints of grey!), and a smart Four-spotted Chaser further up which posed nicely.

Four-spotted Chaser – posed nicely

It was already warming up and it was going to be a hot day so we stopped for a rest at New Fen Viewpoint. As we walked up, a Bittern flew up from the reeds right in front. We watched it as it flew round in a wide circle over the reedbed and disappeared off between the two woods at the back.

Bittern – flew off as we walked up

We sat here on the benches for a while and watched. One or two Reed Warblers flicked round the edge of the reeds and a Reed Bunting was singing in the tops across the other side of pool. A Marsh Harrier flew in from the direction of the river and dropped down at the back. A Little Egret flew out and later back in, and a Grey Heron staked around in the shallow, standing motionless staring into the water.

Before everyone took root, we set off again, along the path on the top of the bank on the edge of New Fen North. The hemlock is very tall now and it is hard to see the fen at times along here, but we did pick up another Bittern which flew round over the reeds and dropped in front of West Wood. When we got to the far end, we scanned the edge of the reeds all round but there was no further sign of it – presumably it had dropped deeper into the reeds.

Cuckoo – flew out of the trees

A Cuckoo was calling from deep in West Wood. Some of the adults have already left the UK but a few are still here, so it was nice just to hear one. But as we walked down along the side of the trees, the Cuckoo flew out along the front edge so we could see it too. A Kestrel came out of the trees too.

We stopped next to admire a smart Great Crested Grebe on one of the pools by the track. A Mute Swan was bathing very noisily behind the reeds here too.

Great Crested Grebe – on one of the pools

It was a good day for Bitterns. As we were just walking up to Joist Fen Viewpoint, what was presumably another bird (but could possibly have been the Bittern we saw fly this way earlier) flew towards us from Joist Fen and straight past us over the reeds. We watched it head back through the gap in the trees and disappear round behind West Wood.

Bittern – another flew past

At Joist Fen Viewpoint, we had brought our packed lunches with us today so we settled down for lunch in the shelter out of the sun, looking out over the reeds. There were lots of distractions – several distant Marsh Harriers and two different Hobbys circled up, hunting dragonflies. A Cormorant was perched on its usual post, drying its wings. A Cetti’s Warbler and a Common Whitethroat were both singing in the eldes nearby.

While we were eating our lunches, another two more Bitterns flew past – both in towards us over Joist Fen and away over the reeds behind, one towards New Fen North and the other round the north side of West Wood. Checking photos of the first of these two Bitterns we could see that it was ringed. This is a bird which is well known to us!

Bittern – the returning ringed female

Very few Bitterns are ringed in the UK, but a juvenile female was picked up unwell from a roadside pond in Letchworth in September 2016. After a couple of days, it had recovered and was ringed before it was released. Then, on 25th June 2017 we photographed it here at Lakenheath Fen while out with a group, which caused a bit of excitement! We have seen it here several times since, in the summer, and it appears that it commutes back down to Herts for the winter. But this is the first time we have seen it since 2019, so nice to know it is still here!

After lunch, we set off to walk back along the riverbank. It was getting hot now and activity was a little more muted. We did see a Jay in the trees on the edge of West Wood and a pair of Mute Swans on one of the pools by the river.

Mute Swan – and reflection

We stopped for a quick look at Hockwold Washes. There were lots of ducks out in the shallow water, mainly Gadwall, plus a few Shoveler and, more surprisingly, several Teal. There were lots of Lapwings over the back, several Avocets and a couple of Redshanks. Given the heat, we didn’t linger and made our way back to the Visitor Centre for some very welcome ice creams all round (the rhubarb & ginger was particularly popular!).

After we had recovered, we decided it was too hot for another long walk. We hadn’t seen any Cranes here, and just the one distant one in flight yesterday in the Broads, so we decided to have a drive round deeper into the Fens to see if we could find any. We drove to an area where we thought we stood a good chance and kept stopping to scan the fields.

When we heard a Corn Bunting singing, we pulled up to listen and one of the group looking out the other way noticed there were several Cranes in the field right next to us! We hadn’t noticed them because they were behind the reeds as we drove up. They slowly walked back away from us as we watched from the minibus to avoid disturbing them. We counted a total of eleven Cranes, a great result!

Common Cranes – several of the eleven

The Corn Bunting had gone quiet when we finally turned our attention back to listening for is, but as we drove back, several Yellowhammers and two Corn Buntings flew out from the verge ahead of us.

It was time to head back now, but we did manage to squeeze in a quick last stop on the way. We pulled up next to a forestry clearing and got out. It was quiet at first, and we thought we might be out of luck given it was hot and sunny and the middle of the afternoon. But then a Tree Pipit flew up out of the middle of the clearing and landed on a dead branch in the top of the tree on one side. We all had a good view through the scope before it dropped down out of view to the ground below. As we were getting back into the minibus, we noticed it was back up in the tree and we could hear it singing.

A nice way to finish, we dropped some of the group off in Swaffham and then continued back up to North Norfolk where we parted company. It had been a very enjoyable three days of birds and other wildlife, across three very different parts of Norfolk.

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