16th June 2024 – Summer Tour, Day 3

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Day 3 of a 3-day Summer Tour. It was originally forecast to be a nice day today, the best of the weekend. Then last night the Met Office changed its mind – it was going to rain all morning and there would be thundery showers in the afternoon. We set off down to the Brecks through heavy rain and feared the worst. But it had stopped by 9am and by 10am the sun started to come out. We didn’t see any more rain all day!

As it was raining on our drive down we diverted in to Lynford Arboretum for a quick walk first thing and it had stopped by the time we arrived. There seemed to be Goldcrests singing everywhere, in the car park and then across the road opposite the Shepherd’s Baa, but we couldn’t see one at first.

There were lots of tits around here too, coming and going from the feeders. Further down, opposite the gate, we found a couple of Marsh Tits. A Treecreeper flew in right behind us, but typically spent most of its time round the back of the trees! We heard Siskins calling and two flew round high above the tops of the trees.

Down before the bridge, we finally managed to get eyes on a Goldcrest feeding in one of the firs and singing. A Nuthatch flew in too and it was slightly odd to watch it up in the branches of the spruce tree feeding on the cones.

Nuthatch
Nuthatch – feeding in a spruce

We stopped on the bridge and listened. A Reed Warbler was singing and a Little Grebe laughed at us from somewhere in the reeds too. The sun was coming out now, so we walked back up through the middle of the Arboretum. Better weather meant more people were out now, but we did manage to add Coal Tit to the list with several feeding high in the trees here. There was no sign of any Spotted Flycatchers this morning though.

With the weather now much better, we decided to call in at Weeting next. As we pulled in to the car park, we found a very large coach there and in the Visitor Centre we found lots of people milling around. Apparently an RSPB group from Lincoln was visiting and had planned to be here all day. Rather oddly, they were not combining it with a visit to Lakenheath too. The reserve here is only small and there are not many facilities – there was a long queue to use the single loo and we were told the hides were likely to be busy.

A couple of Meadow Brown butterflies were flying round outside the Visitor Centre, our first this year. We decided to try our luck with the West Hide, as someone coming back told us that lots of the group had gone off to the Woodland Walk. But when we got there, it was still absolutely chock full, three deep, and we couldn’t even get through the door. Rather worrying that they would be here all day, given that there are only two small hides!

Meadow Brown
Meadow Brown – our first of the year

Anyway, clearly we needed a change of plan. We had a quick chat with reserve staff and told them the problem, then headed over to Lakenheath Fen instead. We had planned to come here this afternoon, once the rain had gone through, but there was still no sign of the heavy rain which was forecast for 11am-12pm. So we packed our lunches in our bags and set off to explore the reserve.

There were lots of bees, hoverflies (including the bee-mimic hoverfly Eristalis intricaria) and a Red Admiral on the brambles by the path out. We could hear Reed Warbler, Blackcap and Common Whitethroat singing. As we passed East Wood, there were more blue damselflies in the vegetation on the verge, mainly Azure Damselflies, plus a female Emperor and a couple of Hairy Dragonflies.

We called in at New Fen Viewpoint. There were a couple of families of Coot out on the water and several fully grown juvenile Little Grebes. We heard a Kingfisher call away to our right, but it didn’t show itself.

Little Grebe
Little Grebe – a juvenile

Several Marsh Harriers circled up over the reeds beyond and we watched a male come in with food and pass it to one of the females which came up from the reeds. A fresh juvenile Marsh Harrier came up too, very dark chocolate brown with a burnt orange head, its wings not yet quite full size. It came up a couple of times and flew round, presumably still exercising its wing muscles. The first we have seen flying round this year.

We didn’t have to wait too long before our patience was rewarded. A Bittern flew up from the reeds behind the pool and we watched it flying away from us towards the trees. It looked like it might drop down again, but then turned and kept going, eventually disappearing off round the far corner of West Wood.

Bittern
Bittern – flying away

We thought we would wait a little bit to see if the Bittern might come back in. We picked up a falcon further back, circling in front of the trees. It looked very dark mantled and we assumed it would just be one of the regular Hobbys, although it appeared very well built. It flew straight towards us and as it turned and flew into the trees we realised it was actually a Peregrine, a small male. Not something we often see here.

Peregrine
Peregrine – flew over

There was no sign of the Bittern returning, so we set off along the path through the vegetation beside the Fen. There were more dragonflies here, including a male Scarce Chaser which was chased off by a Four-spotted Chaser, and a Common Darter. A Hairy Dragonfly flew up from the reeds and caught something right in front of us. It landed again and we stopped to watch it eating a bumblebee.

Hairy Dragonfly
Hairy Dragonfly – eating a bumblebee

There were lots of other nice insects along here too, including a couple of large Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetles.

Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn
Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle – Agapanthia villosoviridescens

Another falcon flying over the reeds this time was the more expected Hobby and we watched it catching dragonflies. It landed in the trees on the edge of West Wood and we got it in the scope. A Great Crested Grebe was asleep on its nest on one of the small pools in the reeds.

Back on the main track past West Wood, we found a couple of Scarlet Tiger moths in the grass. Despite looking like they were probably fairly freshly emerged, neither was in great condition – one had a slightly deformed wing, the other looked like it had been pecked at. There were several Red-eyed Damselflies in the vegetation here too. We could hear a Cuckoo calling in the distance.

Scarlet Tiger
Scarlet Tiger moth – with damaged wing

When we got to Joist Fen Viewpoint, it was time for lunch. We sat in the shelter and looked out over the reedbed beyond, not a bad view to have while you are eating. There were already a few Hobbys up, hawking for dragonflies over the reeds and pools. Gradually numbers seemed to increase and at one point we counted 11 Hobbys in the air together. At one point, one drifted in over the viewpoint. There were several Marsh Harriers up too.

Hobby
Hobby – over the viewpoint

Another Bittern appeared, flying away from us again. This one just kept going and going – we picked it up not far out from the viewpoint and by the time we eventually lost sight of it, it had flown almost to the far end of the reserve. We also had brief views of a third, which came up just for a couple of seconds over the reeds behind the viewpoint.

A female Cuckoo called closer to the viewpoint, but from somewhere behind the large willows where we couldn’t see it. Then the male started calling again but still very distant. It sounded like it was probably in the poplars on the river bank and didn’t show itself while we were there.

After lunch, we started to walk back. We hadn’t gone very far when yet another Bittern appeared, this time flying straight towards us. A much better view now, as it came straight past. This is a great time of year to see Bitterns in flight, as they females are making regular feeding flights to and from the nests.

Bittern
Bittern – flew past

There were more invertebrates here, including a female Banded Demoiselle on a reed leaf over the path and another different bee-mimic hoverfly (Volucella bombylans) on a thistle. A Common Lizard was sunning itself on one of the benches along the edge of West Wood.

Common Lizard
Common Lizard – sunning itself

The Cuckoo seemed to be taunting us. It, or another, was calling from the end of West Wood when we got there, impossible to see in there. Then as we were half way along past Trial Wood, it started calling in the trees just behind us. We still couldn’t see it so walked on and it seemed to cross over behind us out to the willows in New Fen next. By the time we got to the New Fen Viewpoint, it was more distant and sounded like it had moved back into West Wood again. It just wasn’t going to show itself for us today!

Great Crested Grebe
Great Crested Grebe – in front of the viewpoint

A Great Crested Grebe was now on the water in front of New Fen Viewpoint and another Hobby drifted right overhead and back over East Wood.

Hobby
Hobby – over New Fen

As we walked back past East Wood, a teneral male Scarce Chaser was hanging on the nettles by the side of the path allowing us good close views before it flew off.

Scarce Chaser
Scarce Chaser – a teneral male

Back to the car park, we set off back in the minibus. We thought we would have another go at Weeting but as we turned we could see the coach was still in parking area. The Lincoln RSPB group was still here, lots of the group milling around outside the Visitor Centre. We walked straight down to West Hide, fearing the worst, but there were only a couple of the group still in there when we arrived, so we seized our opportunity.

There was no sign of any Stone Curlews at first (probably why the RSPB group were not still in occupation!), but we sat down and scanned patiently. After a while, one stood up on the ridge at the back, followed by a second further back still. OK views in the scope, before they sat back down and disappeared again.

We didn’t have to wait too much longer before another Stone Curlew appeared out of the grass much closer, on the near edge of the cultivated area. An adult, it stood preening for a while and then the two full-grown juveniles stood up nearby – they are pretty much mature now and due to fledge any day now. We had a much better view of these in the scope – we could see their yellow staring irises.

Stone Curlew
Stone Curlew – eventually stood up

Several of the RSPB group came back in and it was back to standing room only, but thankfully we were already in situ now. A Stone Curlew started calling from the fields off to the west and the adult stretched its neck up and called back. We could hear where they get their name now – they are not a member of the curlew family.

Stone Curlew
Stone Curlew – calling back

Then it was time for us to start heading for home. The weather had not been particularly kind to us over the last three days, certainly until today, but we had managed to stay mostly dry and still seen a great selection of birds and other wildlife.

If you like what you read here, you can find more on our regular News page here. To see what other tours we have coming up, check the list here.

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