Friday, 22 July 2016

Birding in central Norfolk

Common Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Wednesday 20 July

What a way to spend your wedding anniversary, writing up bird blogs before having to go shopping and then a dance class.  By the time i get the photos sorted it will be the end of the week-end!  And to add insult to injury, even the planned two-day trip over to cousin Paul Newport in Watton (the Breckland Birder) took on last-second, nevermind minute, amendments.
The original plan was to set off mid-morning and spend the afternoon at Welney Wildfowl Trust before journeying on to Watton for an overnight stay then off to RSPB Lakenheath on the Thursday.  Back from my five-day visit to Warsash to find my eye appointment at the local hospital is to be on 19 August, two days after I leave for Spain!  Two alternative dates available but at the main hospital in Peterborough; one for Wednesday morning and the other for the following day when I should have been in Norfolk.  No problem as I had to drive past Peterborough so accepted 11.30 Wednesday and sent an email to Paul informing him of such and still expected to arrive about 5pm.  At the same time, a message form Paul to ask if I fancied a late evening/early dark visit to a local site where he had heard a very rare bird at 4.30 that morning.

Lovely Lady Fen, Welney from the Visitors Centre
Wednesday morning and arriving slightly early I noticed that the car park was free for the first 30 minutes followed by £2.60 an hour thereafter!  No problem as I imagined all would be completed in no more than twenty minutes if appointment on time.  Great; seen five minutes early but then the real fun started as I was sent from one room to another for this, that and every test.  Finally with the specialist who put some most awfully painful eye drops in to enlarge the pupils and casually enquired had I travelled by bus as I would not be able to see clearly for about three hours!!!!  Good news was that no problem with the eyes after all the implications leading up to the appointment.  But sit in a car park, not even able to read the book I had taken with me, for the final hour and a half (yes, that's how long the appointment lasted)?

Mute Swan Cygnus olor family on Lovely Lady Fen
After just over 2 hours I took off for Welney along the nearby A47 but arriving after 3pm I had only an hour to spare and rested the eyes further by taking a coffee and studying all the blurry white things on the scrapes below.  A Song Thrush along with Magpie on the way in and then Mute Swans with seven cygnets and a good number of Black-headed Gull families along with Coots, Mallards and even a couple of Ruff.  A you looked closer you could see the small number of Lapwing and even a pair of Oystercatchers on the far bank.  A few Moorhens paddled about whilst Barn Swallows fed overhead and both Wood Pigeon and Collared Doves were noted.  Add on Common Starlings and that just about took care of Lovely Lady Fen.

The other side of the reserve contained two pairs of Whoopoer Swans who, for one reason or another, had nor migrated back to Tundra to breed but chose to make whoopee at their winter quarters.  Also present were breeding House Martins, Avocets, Common Sandpipers, a single Pied Wagtail and a trio of Greylag Geese.  No shortage of Little Egrets and a Heron and then, on the journey over to Watton, Greenfinches, House Sparrows and a resting Kestrel.

By now the skies had become very dark in deed with thunder rumbling along in the background.  Come 7pm the heavens opened for a good hour so able to enjoy the day's report on the Tour de France before setting off to Hockham Fen.  Only problem now that I had packed no spare shoes, nevermind walking boots, so my suede loafers were somewhat wet by the time we had walked through the woods to the edge of the fen.  With a few minutes we had been joined by Kevin Moran for nearby BTO headquarters in Thetford who was most keen to confirm what Paul had heard very early that morning and, if confirmed, a very rare visitor indeed to this pat of the world a this time of the year.  A Heron flew across the sky as the sun set and then a silhouette of a Red Deer's head.  The animal later edged along the far bank and revealed itself along with a second hind plus two well-grown fawns and a third, older, youngster.

Then, at 9.19 precisely, the first call and we all looked at each other, smiled and shook hands as we confirmed the presence of a Spotted Crake, its "huitt" call sounding just like the first half of a wolf-whistle as so aptly described ion Collins.  A couple more calls in the next twenty minutes then it really took off after the last of the daylight had gone.  Magnificent!  Best of all, Paul had managed to take a recording and I have asked him if it is possible to download and then add to his blog as an attachment for other to listen.  Follow the Breckland Birder's blog at: to see Paul's report and whether or not such a connection is possible.  Then, in the dark, it was back to Watton and try and dry shoes in time for the morning's visit to Lakenheath but at least we would not be setting out before the sun.

Now that's a gorgeous Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Thursday 21 July

Distant Cranes Grus grus over RSPB Lakenheath
A lovely start to the day accompanied by the resident Wood Pigeons, House Sparrows, Starlings and Blackbirds (but no Blackbird seen at the RSPB reserve) as we set out on the thirty minute drive over to RSPB Lakenheath, arriving about 8.45.  Lots of Crows seen on the way along with the British plague of Wood Pigeons.

Singing Sedge Warbler Acrocephalis schoenobaenus
No sooner had we arrived than we could hear Pheasants calling and the first bird seen was a rather delightful Lesser Whitethroat that disappeared into cover as soon as it saw us approaching along with singing Blackcaps.  A first look at the Washlands viewpoint revealed many Mute Swans along with Coots, both with young, plus a dozen or so Herons, a few Mallards and a pair of Gadwall.  But just the single Moorhen.  Then it was back to the path to see if we could find the river embankment track (at this point I should point out that the River Little Ouse is the county boundary and we were actually in Suffolk but looking at birds in Norfolk beyond the mid-point of the river and to the far bank) and encountered our first Common Whitethroat; not one but a pair which very kindly posed to enable us to take numerous photographs.

Once more, back to our friendly Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Having realised we were heading in the wrong direction we retraced our steps to the Visitors Centre where we sorted out our route and made our way, once more, to the new view point over the river.  All the previous birds we seen as we sat on the seats along with passing Magpie and Crows plus a feeding Common Tern.  At least two pairs of great Crested Grebes on the water and more Black-headed Gulls and in the nearby vegetation both Reed Buntings and Sedge Warblers.  As left to walk the river bank a large flock of Lapwing flew high overhead and our first Reed Warbler was seen to accompany the many heard calling.  Then it was on, recording more Mallards, Mute Swans, a trio of Cormorants and a pair of Common Sandpipers, till we found the track leading to the Joist Fen Viewpoint where we sent very many enjoyable minutes.

Mute Swan Cygnus olor

On arrival we found a single Coot on the small pond immediately in front of the hide along with a lonely young Mute Swan cygnet; where were the rest of the family?  A juvenile Moorhen was perched on top of a metre plus post but soon change its mind when it saw that company had arrived.  Then a rather splendid thirty minutes as first a Bittern took off from close range, coming out of nowhere and disappearing to same with in five metres.  It was later to make another couple of short sorties before departing the immediate area.  In the distance, not more swans but four Cranes who made a number of circuits before settling once more.  At least thirty plus Lapwings flew over and then a couple of Buzzards over the far trees.  Meanwhile, behind us, we had a hovering Kestrel and that was it for raptors other than the Red Kite seen as we approached Watton on the return journey and the resident female Marsh Harrier.

Bittern Botaurus stellaris at Joist Fen Viewpoint
Lots of butterflies about including Red Admiral, Tortoiseshell, Gate-keepers, Small Coppers and, just for Steve, a small "Cabbage White".  All these plus crane flies and a number of dragonflies but no sign, for us, of the Hobby that had been foraging the area earlier on in the morning and most of the previous week.

One of very many Red Admirals Vanessa atalanta

Arriving at the new hide overlooking the small red-fringed lake we found full occupancy and just room for one seat.  Everybody here was with the expressed purpose of seeing and photographing the Kingfisher that had taken up territory.  We did see the bird flash past but this was not my "cup of tea" with so much else to see.

Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum
An Emerald or a female Common Blue?
The final stop of the morning was at the New Fen Viewpoint where, again, we were not to be disappointed.  More Mallards, Coots and Moorhens but the main sight was that of the Bearded Tit family that put in regular appearance but,, as so often is the case, never still long enough to get a photograph.  A Reed Warbler yes but not the BeardedTit.  Just to add a little spice to the occasion a Water Rail was calling from within the dense reed-bed.

High and distant Stock Dove Columba oenas

And so the morning ended with Goldfinches and Blue Tits on the feeders back at the Visitors Centre as we bade our farewells and headed off to Watton.

Norfolk Birds:
Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Pheasant, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Bittern, Little Egret, Heron, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Water Rail, Spotted Crake, Moorhen, Coot, Crane, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Lapwing, Ruff, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Pied Wagtail, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Bearded Tit, Blue Tit, Magpie, Rook, Carrion Crow, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting.

One more Bittern back at the Visitors Centre - but going nowhere as he posed in his glass box!
More Whitethroat shots

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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