16th July 2023 – Summer Tour, Day 3

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Day 3 of a three day Summer Tour. It was very windy again today, with the wind only easing gradually during the day. At least it remained mostly dry, the only rain we encountered being as we drove back after we had finished thankfully.

We were planning to head to the Brecks today, but with the very strong wind this morning, we decided to swing round via the outskirts of Norwich and chance our luck at seeing the Lesser Scaup which has been present for over two weeks. The pits at Colney are private and there are only a couple of places where you can see over parts of them from outside, and the Lesser Scaup spends long periods out of sight, so we knew it would be a bit of a long shot. When we arrived, there were a couple of people leaving and two more still looking, but they hadn’t seen the bird. Not a good sign!

We set up the scopes and scanned. There were quite a few Tufted Ducks, several of which were asleep at first, but as they woke from time to time, it became very clear the Lesser Scaup wasn’t with them. Two more Tufted Ducks appeared from behind the trees in the far corner. There was a raft of Gadwall and Mallard and some Coots too, and a couple of Common Terns and several Swifts, House Martins and Sand Martins flying round. Some people have waited hours for the Lesser Scaup to appear on previous days, but we didn’t want to waste so much time here today, so we decided to move on.

It was a slow drive down to the Brecks, and we went to Lynford Arboretum first, where we would be out of the wind. We stopped for a coffee break at the Shepherd’s Baa and scanned the trees from here – there were a few Blue Tits and Great Tits, and Swallows and Goldfinches in the trees in the garden behind. We could hear Siskins calling in the trees from time to time.

Firecrest – in the arboretum

Afterwards, we walked round through the trees. In the far corner, we finally found some more birds all in large mixed flock – a family of Nuthatches piping loudly and climbing round in the pines, with Treecreeper, Goldcrests, more tits and several Chaffinches with them. We followed them for a while, and eventually found a Firecrest too, in a small holly. It disappeared for a while and then we realised it was mostly stationary preening in among the leaves. Surprisingly, given the number we had seen earlier in the week here, there was no sign of any Spotted Flycatchers here today. The wind probably wasn’t helping.

Small Skipper – on knapweed

We walked down towards the lake, stopping to look at some skipper butterflies on the flowers in the grass, eventually identifying all of Small, Essex and Large Skippers. A large buddleia bush sheltered by the trees in the sunshine was covered in butterflies – lots of Commas, Red Admirals, Large Whites, Peacock and a Brimstone. Several electric blue Emperor dragonflies zoomed round us.

Brimstone – on the buddleia

We didn’t find a Silver-washed Fritillary on the buddleia but we did then find one down at the bridge, nectaring on the meadowsweet, our first of the year. A Green-veined White was feeding in the flowers here too and several Ruddy and Common Darter dragonflies were flying around the vegetation. A Reed Warbler was singing in the reeds. We had a short walk down beside the lake, but it was more exposed and windier here, so we decided to head back. On the way, we stopped to look at a couple of Goldcrests feeding in the conifers next to the path and we found a couple of Siskins in some birches.

Ruddy Darter – down by the bridge

It was lunchtime, so we stopped to eat on the picnic tables in the sunshine. Afterwards, we drove over to Weeting Heath. While checking in and using the facilities, we had a quick look at the Bur Medick flowering in the car park, a tiny native plant which has its stronghold on the sandy soils of the Brecks. Then it was out to West Hide.

As we got into the hide, a Stone Curlew was standing in the cultivated strip in front of the hide, but by the time we had set up the scope it had disappeared. As the vegetation has grown up, it is now impossible to see the bird on the nest. Another Stone Curlew appeared in the grass further back and when it called, one of the closer pair stood up from where it had been hiding in the grass closer to us and we had some nice views of it in the scope.

Stone Curlew – in the long grass

The Stone Curlew tilted its head to one side, looking up into the sky. We figured there had to be a raptor up there somewhere, but probably over the trees behind the hide. When it did it a second time, a few minutes later, we looked up again to see a Peregrine fly out over the heath and off away to the west. There was a Lapwing on the cultivated area too.

The Stone Curlew sat down in the grass and disappeared again, and then when the further male started calling it stood up again and then walked back through the flowers. We thought it might go over to the nest for a changeover in incubation duties, but instead it walked past behind the nest camera and into some bugloss further back where it sat down again.

Stone Curlew – in the flowers

We walked on down to the Woodland Hide to see if there were any birds coming down to drink. A Marsh Tit was calling in the trees by the path, but disappeared off back in the direction of the Visitor Centre. There were lots of young Blue Tits and Great Tits in and out from the feeders and a Coal Tit darted in and out a couple of times too. Two juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers from time to time flew in and landed on the posts, but kept chasing each other back out. One did manage to spend a couple of minutes feeding on the peanuts at one point. A Hummingbird Hawkmoth appeared, feeding around the thistle flowers just behind the feeders.

Great Spotted Woodpecker – a juvenile

Back to the Visitor Centre, and it was time for an ice cream break. Afterwards, we had time for a quick drive into the edge of the Fens to see if we could find any Cranes. We were out of luck again, but we did find a Corn Bunting on the wires and lots of Swifts hawking low over the fields.

We had a long drive back and most of the group needed to get away this afternoon, so we called it a day. We could see dark clouds ahead as we turned back north and we drove through showers on our way, before we got back and said our goodbyes. There had been some not very summery weather this weekend but we had still managed to see a good selection of birds and other summer wildlife and had managed to stay mostly dry!

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