At the unearthly hour of 5am, a group of 4 dreary eyed Midlanders met on a quiet residential road in the center of Redditch, the objective?
To absolutely thrash the North Norfolk coast in a day of hardcore birding.
In reality, 'Hardcore' is really not the word to describe it, but more of a relaxed 'mop up' of a variety of superb birds that us as Midlanders are deprived of in our home county of Worcestershire. We reached the county of Suffolk by 7 to be greeted with superb sunshine! At Lakenheath just after 7:30, and walking the path to the New Fen viewpoint soon after. A Cuckoo could be heard calling from near the visitor center, and proved to be one of MANY around the site. At least, i would guess that 5 birds were on site, and we had many views of the birds, including some stunning views!
The View from the New Fen viewpoint was stunning!
And it wasn't long until a personal favorite of mine flew into view, an absolutely stonking male MARSH HARRIER. The bird quartered the reeds at very close range, giving stunning Bins views, before moving a little further away where i took a few photos as it flapped low along the Pythagamites. A female soon joined it, and both hunted the beds.
Eager to move on we moved to the path adjacent to the river, but while doing so heard the deep, quiet booming sound of a male Bittern! Again a species that we had a cumulative total of 5!
Standing on the raised track overlooking the reedbed and the river, a GRASSHOPPER WARBLER could be heard reeling, and managed to get brief views of this elusive Locustella warbler. Infact, one of very few actual 'sightings' I've had, as most are usually deep within a reedbed and refuse to show.
4 HOBBY were picked out perching on the edge of the woodland, one in particular giving great views, all waiting for the day to warm slightly so the insects take wing. There is something just 'not right' about seeing a Hobby perched up, don't get me wrong, it is a stunner of a Falcon, one of the best, but to see Hobbys doing 'what they do', that is, catch, eat and show the immense agility that is part of their trait all 'on the wing' is just magnificent!
Walking up the track further, one of the party picked up a stunning COMMON CRANE as it flew past us, quickly followed by a 2nd bird, and we had decent views as they circled over the reserve. Only on the return flypast did they give truly decent views.
Joist Fen was quieter, a couple of MARSH HARRIER quartering the reeds, and a further flypast of the CRANES, as well as insanely close Common Swift flypasts.
The male at this end of the reserve was even better than the New Fen bird, i mean just look at it!
Our main target however was still refusing to show and, as far as we knew, hadn't been seen. Being very conscious of the time, we decided to walk back to the visitor center, dropping in at New Fen again to ask one of the RSPB staff if anything had been seen. Literally a few minutes before, they had seen our main target for the reserve! We went over to check where it was seen flying to, but we had nothing, although the first flying Hobby of the day was nice to see. Sitting in the visitor center, we took a vote, to Norfolk, or stick around, with an absolute deadline of 1pm. We chose the 2nd, and it chose to be a superb decision. Back at New Fen, we joined the crowd, and after about 10 minutes a 'commotion' stirred at the other end of the crowd, a few muffled 'At the back' or 'behind the bush........ Now' remarks and i got onto the stunning male RED-FOOTED FALCON!!
Even from this distance, it brilliant silvery primary s stood out like a beacon from the many Hobby that it was hunting with, and with the sun, blue hues could be seen from its dark plumage, with occasional glimpses of its Red under tail. We knew the path we had walked along was much closer, and we hot footed it over there, and again, a superb decision, and we had stunning views of this beautiful Falcon as it sped low across the Reeds with at least 7 Hobby. At this range, you really could admire this stunning eastern European Falcons plumage. Almost entirely slate blue/grey body and upperwing, with incredibly pale primary s (at times, almost white), contrasting to an almost black underwing and tail as it jinked its way after one of the many St Marks Fly.
With the incredible speed of the Falcon, it proved almost impossible to digi-scope, but a few 'lucky' aim and burst fire shots came good with a couple including the Red-foot!
(RFF on right, Hobby on left)
The Falcon refused to land so i could get some 'proper' shots, but a few Hobbys did, only confirming them as a stunning species!
After a decent time savoring this beauty after out long 4 hours worth of effort, we bode farewell to Lakenheath to move to another Breckland location. Weeting Heath.
Without introduction, you know what our objective was here. Stone Curlew, and we were soon treated to clear, but somewhat distant views of these unusual wading birds as they slowly made their way out of a furrow. Only two could be found however, the late cold spring obviously having had the effect we feared before visiting, as many had been picked up dead around the Brecks. Despite this horrible fact, we enjoyed the views of this enigmatic bird, and one that is exceptionally rare in the Midlands!
We didn't want to hang around too long, already being behind schedule, so we quickly moved off, towards North Norfolk.....
To be Continued....