Saturday, March 26, 2005

Brecks birding

Day 3 | A Speyside Wildlife holiday.

Woodlark Thetford Forest.

We wake to a dank, grey morning and with the clocks going forward an hour overnight, no pre-breakfast birding so we all meet at the breakfast table to fuel up for the day ahead.

Our first port of call is a return visit to Santon Downham in a hope to find Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We arrive to find little in the way of birdlife. We begin our search with a couple of Bramblings and assorted tits. Great Spotted Woodpeckers are very much evident – drumming, feeding, chasing each other. Green Woodies can be heard ‘yaffling’ from all directions. Then we are in luck. A couple of birders find a pair of Lesser Spots feeding actively in the wood. We are on to them in a flash with most of us getting views before they start to lead us a merry dance before eventually disappearing. A Marsh Tit keeps us entertained whilst we keep up the search for the Lesser Peckers. But they continue to evade us until Steve picks up a bird flying through the wood, straight over our heads and away. Shucks!

We move on to Lynford arboretum for our second challenge - Hawfinches. We search the hornbeams in the paddock with little joy. A pair of Siskin chase each other around and a Green Woodpecker hammers away at the dead wood at the top of one of the trees. But the birds are pretty thin on the ground. ‘Hawfinch!’ shouts Steve pointing to two chunky birds flying past us flashing their broad wing white bars. Unfortunately they head straight over and out of sight. A further hours wait and still no show so we head back to Santon Downham for lunch.

Our after lunch walk is through Thetford Warren. The grey day continues to suppress bird song and activity and the walk in is to the sound of our own voices and noisy feet! We eventually arrive at a clearfell site but still no birds. A Woodlark appears and lands on a tree stump. Fluffed up in the cold it sings mournfully, half-heartedly. It’s so close. Through the scopes we can see every detail - the supercillium over the eye joining at the back of the nape, the black and white patch on the folded wing, the streaked chest and the pink legs and feet with pale claws. Wonderful stuff! Its song gradually gets more purposeful until it takes flight, flutters over our heads and is joined by a second bird and they sweep down to the path and begin feeding.

After a warming coffee we head off on to the heaths. By the Elveden Monument we search for the recent Great Grey Shrike to no avail. A pair of Stonechats provide us with a new bird for the weekend, the male looking smart in his black, white and orange-red garb. Back on the road, Marilyn remarks we haven’t seen a Brown Hare all day, and within minutes, Steve obliges with not one, but three! A few minutes later we are parked up and watching five Stone-curlews. Two birds break from their statuesque poses and after some posturing do the unthinkable. Take flight! In an instant they turn from cryptically patterned statues matching brilliantly their surroundings, to great big black and white things sweeping across the heath! Wow!

Late afternoon we arrive at Lackford Lake. It’s still cold and grey and the group is quiet and expectations are low. The sailing lake holds Egyptian Goose and Goldeneye when a Sedge Warbler suddenly breaks in to song behind us. We turn our attention to this African migrant. Movement in the reeds reveals only Reed Bunting. A second bird sings, but neither show. We continue to wait when a Water Rail begins to ‘sharm’, but neither it or the Sedge Warblers are seen. We move on to the hide where a flock of Sand Martins reveals a lone Swallow. Two female Goosanders sleep on one of the islands and a ‘sinensis’ Cormorant sits regally amongst the more drably coloured ‘carbos’.

Our last stop of the day is Micklemere, just a stones throw from the hotel. The place is teeming. Snipe eagerly stab along the soft muddy fringes of the mere. Teal are absolutely everywhere, with Gadwall and Shoveler dotted among them. The odd Redhank picks its way between the Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a lone Dunlin runs around a small gravel island. Two Ringed Plovers land on a distant island by a couple of Shelduck.

Time though runs out and we must make our way back to the hotel to freshen up before another sumptuous dinner. Over coffee we vote for place of the trip with Cholsley Barns draws with Cavenham Heath; species of the trip goes to today’s Woodlark (with Stone-curlew, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Sparrow, Barn Owl and Golden Pheasant all tying for second place with a vote each); and magic moment is our first mornings Stone-curlew watching on Cavenham Heath.

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