Reporter: John Scoggins
Coordinator & Species List: David Gibbons
On Sunday, 24 April the group met for its fourth outdoor meeting of the year at RSPB Lakenheath Fen. The day was led by David Gibbons. The days of hoping to see or hear Golden Oriole at the reserve are now sadly gone so instead we hoped for a successful haul of early spring migrants undeterred by the cold northerly winds which has beset the early part of the week.
The day started promisingly; bright and sunny though with a cold nip in
the air and reports of two Cuckoos from a departing group as we arrived.
Whilst getting ready, we were entertained by Pied Wagtail, Robin and Great and Long-tailed Tits using the car park’s solar panels, sculptures and scrub to explore and forage. A pair of Stock Doves flew over, and we also heard distant Cuckoo calls which were to become the soundtrack to the day. As we entered the reserve, the visitor centre pond gave good views of Reed Bunting and Mallard before we ventured out along the main circular trail. At this time of year, the sounds are as spectacular as the sights, and our first spring migrant, a Common Whitethroat, crept through the nettles and scrub alongside the path, and allowed us to associate its song and song flight. As we continued along the path the whitethroats were joined in song by Chiffchaffs which proved more elusive, as well as Great Tits, a Song Thrush and a yaffling Green Woodpecker. This part of the reserve also threw up a couple of surprises as a Curlew flew over and a Kingfisher, the first of two seen in this area, darted across the path.
Our first stop of the morning was at the New Fen viewpoint which provided more expansive views over the reserve. The small pool held Shoveler, Greylag Goose, Gadwall, Mallard and Tufted Ducks, and the surrounding reeds provided views of Sedge Warbler and the sound of Cetti’s Warbler. Our one and only view of a Cuckoo came from here, in flight heading into
East Wood. We also had distant views of Common Buzzard and Marsh Harrier and enjoyed trying to separate these species at distance. As we continued along Trial Wood, the plantation of poplar trees once used for Bryant & May matches and by breeding Golden Orioles, we got further good views of a Whitethroat and a vertigo-defying Wren perched unusually high in the trees.
A brief visit to Mere Hide was quiet but what it lacked in quantity of birds it made up for in quality with a clear view of a Great Crested Grebe in near-perfect light as well as a Coot chick disappearing down a gap in the reeds. As the morning warmed up, the butterflies began to become more active and our first Orange-tip and Green-veined Whites supplemented the already numerous Peacocks. Also becoming more obvious were the St
Mark’s Flies which hung delicately in the air displaying true to their name in honour of St Mark’s Day on 25 April, the following day.
Continuing along the main trail we stopped briefly to watch a male Pochard amongst other water birds in the first of the lagoons at the western end of the reserve. We were also treated to a front row seat of a singing Sedge Warbler, so close its orange mouth could be seen without binoculars and completely unfazed by the growing group of admiring birdwatchers.
At Joist Fen we had an extended stop hoping for some of the reserve’s star species. Although the pools seemed quiet at first, careful inspection along the island’s edge revealed a Snipe and a Common Redshank as well as some duck species that came in and out of view. Whilst the nesting Common Cranes remained elusive, a number of Bittern calls were heard
and one of the year’s first Hobbies impressed with its aerial acrobatics. We also heard a Water Rail and had a Cormorant fly over.
In contrast to the main reserve, the walk back along the river was fairly quiet; a hunting Kestrel kept us entertained and the numerous Mute Swans were carefully checked in the hope of a Little Egret which never materialised. The Washland proved more fruitful with plenty of Oystercatchers, Black-tailed Godwits, Avocets and a variety of Ruff plumages to top off the visit.
After lunch we drove the short distance to Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Weeting Heath reserve. The target species here was Stone Curlew but as we drove into the car park the first person we encountered asked us is we were here for the Hoopoe! We weren’t, but our plans soon expanded to incorporate this unexpected opportunity. Fortuitously, the route to the Hoopoe hotspot was via the Stone Curlew hide where NWT have, as in previous years, set
up a camera on a nest. Unlike previous years, however, the birds have nested much closer to the hide this year, which provided excellent views once we located both of the birds that were visible. Behind them, a few Lapwing flitted nervously, keeping a close watch on their chicks, one of which the reserve reported had fallen victim to one of the Stone Curlew
earlier in the day. A Brimstone flew in front of the hide and a Skylark serenaded the spring scene from overhead.
From the west hide it was a short walk along the road, to Fire Track 49 and up to a house overlooking an area of open grassland. A small group was watching the Hoopoe which had been seen on and off throughout the day, and was now foraging in and around the gorseand the mistle thrushes. A great end to a great day! Thank you to David for organising and leading, and to the other members of the group for sharing their time, knowledge and scopes.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Crested Grebe
Please feel free to read through our reports from our monthly outdoor meetings.