2nd April 2023 – Early Spring Tour, Day 3

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Day 3 of an Early Spring 3-day tour. The forecast for today was much better, so we spent the day down in the Brecks. It remained rather stubbornly cool and cloudy until late morning, before the sun finally broke through. It was then a nice warm afternoon, at least out of the still rather cool NNE wind.

As we set off from the guest house on the journey down to the Brecks this morning, we hadn’t got far through the village when we noticed a Swallow on the wires, the first one we have seen this year. Just the one, so that doesn’t make it summer yet, but a nice sign that spring may finally be on its way.

Swallow – our first of the year

The rest of the journey down was fairly uneventful. Our destination for the morning was Santon Downham and we parked by the Forestry Commission offices and set off along the path by the river. A small flock of Bramblings flew over and we could hear a Lesser Redpoll calling, eventually to be found tucked deep in a thick hawthorn on the other side of the river. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew in to top of the trees above the path.

We stopped a bit further up to listen, but there was no sign of any woodpecker activity, no drumming. Two pairs of Marsh Tits chased each others through the willows on the bank, their sneezing calls alerting us to their approach. Two pairs of Mandarin flew in and out of the trees the other side and landed so we could get them in the scope. We got the scope on a male Brambling high in the poplars, admiring its bright orange breast and shoulders. We could hear its wheezy calls and at one point a burst of its rather unimpressive and similarly wheezy song.

Marsh Tit – two pairs along the riverbank

Further on, we found another couple of people waiting and watching on the river bank. They had heard a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker earlier, but only drumming briefly a couple of times. We stopped here too, and scanned the trees. There was lots of activity here – one or two Nuthatches piping in the poplars and investigating a hole in a rotting branch. A pair of Treecreepers chasing round the trunks. A small flock of Redwing flew over and landed in the tops briefly.

Behind us, a pair of Kingfishers shot up the river calling, but disappeared off back into the trees opposite. We heard them several times more, up and down through the trees, but they didn’t come back out to the river. A Grey Wagtail flew over calling too. As it started to warm up a little, a couple of Common Buzzards circled up and a Sparrowhawk appeared above the trees.

Periodically, we could hear Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling or drumming and we saw one or two in the trees overhead, but there was no sign of their diminutive relations. We waited for an hour and then decided we would head back. We hadn’t even moved when we heard a quick burst of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming, further back and in the trees and upstream from where we were. It gave another quick burst and we set off to try to locate it. Unfortunately, that was it and despite stopping and listening back along the bank we didn’t hear it again. Frustrating.

We made our way back. The skies had cleared and the sun was out now. A Small Tortoiseshell was fluttering around the willows by the path, our first of the year. Just before the road, we stopped to look at the feeders by the houses across the river. A smart male Siskin came in to feed and we eventually managed to get a Lesser Redpoll in the scope, in the same thick hawthorn where the male had been earlier. Just across the bridge, we stopped by the garden with the feeders. There were more Siskins here, including a male singing in the tree above the road.

Siskin – male singing

There was a lot of disturbance north of the level crossing today. As we arrived, we had seen a large gathering of mountain bikers in the car park and there were still lots of cars here. We had heard the roar of motorbikes through the forest all the time we were down along the river too. We stopped and crossed the road to have a quick look at the clearing the other side, thinking it might be a bit quieter. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no sign of any Woodlark today, but we did see a Mistle Thrush at the back and a male Stonechat on a gorse bush. A Brimstone flew past. We had a quick look along the start of the ride beyond the car park too, but there were no birds along here at all, so we decided to move on.

We drove over to a high point overlooking the forest to look for Goshawks and eat our lunch. We thought activity might have picked up with the sunshine as it warmed up, but some people leaving as we arrived said the birds had been more active when it was cloudy and cool earlier and had now gone quiet. As we tucked into our sandwiches, there were lots of Common Buzzards up in all directions and a distant Red Kite. A female Sparrowhawk circled up from the trees.

Woodlark – out on the grass

One of the group spotted a pair of Woodlark on the grass behind us, feeding quietly, so we got those in the scope for a closer look. We could see the way their supercilia met in a shallow ‘v’ on the back of their necks. A little later, one flew up calling and landed high in one of the trees above us. Then it dropped down into the field opposite, where it was joined by a second Woodlark. The light was better this side and it was a really nice view of them in the scope now. A couple of Common Furrow Bees were feeding in the head of a dandelion.

Common Furrow Bee – on dandelion

We were just packing up to leave, when finally a Goshawk appeared. An adult male, it circled up from behind the trees and quickly gained height in the warm air. We kept getting it the scope but it was hard to track as it was climbing so fast and by the end it was high in the sky overhead. Eventually, everyone got a look at it in the scope, even if it was a bit more distant.

The pair of Stone Curlews had been showing well at Weeting recently, so we decided to call in there next. When we arrived and got out to the hide, there was no sign of them at first. There were a couple of Lapwings in the back of the cultivated strip and plenty of Rooks. We set up the scopes and scanned carefully, but there was a bit of heat haze now and they can ‘disappear’ when they sit down. Then as we scanned back across suddenly a Stone Curlew stood up.

Stone Curlew – showing well

The Stone Curlew preened for a minute or so and looked round. Then it started to walk across the broken ground with its tail raised in the air. Normally that would suggest that another Stone Curlew was present and sure enough a minute or so later a second bird stood up too. We watched them for a while before they both settled down again and all but disappeared once more.

We still had a little bit of time before we had to get back, so we drove on to Lakenheath Fen. We didn’t have enough time to explore the whole reserve, but there have been some Garganey on Hockwold Washes in recent days, so we thought we would have a quick look from the Washland Viewpoint. As we walked out of the Visitor Centre past the feeders, several Reed Buntings were flicking around in the sallows behind.

Reed Bunting – around the feeders

Scanning across the Washes from the viewpoint, we quickly located a pair of Garganey on the water. The drake looked especially smart in the sunshine, the white stripe on its burgundy head catching the light. Thankfully, we all had a chance to get a good look through the scope before suddenly they flew and landed out of view behind the vegetation at the front. Perfect timing! There was a nice selection of other ducks on here too – Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, a single Wigeon and a few Tufted Ducks and Shelducks.

It is a lovely spot to stand here and watch the world go by, particularly on such a nice sunny afternoon, but unfortunately we were out of time now and had to head back. It had been a fun three days with some good birds and remarkably given the weather forecast beforehand we had largely stayed dry!

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