The group from the last excursion out East had again planned to visit Lakenheath RSPB in search of Golden Orioles, however, some bad fortune had 2 of our group dropping out, leaving just the two of us to head east and scour the Marshes.
Again, a 5am start had us arriving at Lakenheath before 8 am, and we were soon standing adjacent to the Black Poplars in the hope of catching a ear-full of melodious Golden Oriole song. With the strong gusts, it made listening very hard, with the rustle of the leaves constantly drowning out the birdsong. Our optimism wasn't particularly high, the birds had been very elusive for much of the spring and there had been no sign for days! Never a good sign when on the search for Orioles. After slowly walking past all 3 of the Poplar Wood's, and having drawn a blank, we walked towards the Joist Fen viewpoint.
Similarly to the last visit, MARSH HARRIER did seem to be hunting over every section of reeds possible, and at one point, 7 birds were up at once, a stunning sight!
In my mind, Marsh Harrier must surely rate as one of the best Raptors, such graceful flyers, and actually very good looking also.
We were setting into a regular routine of scanning the reeds once we had reached the viewpoint, dodging the rain by moving to the other side of the wall. In one of these avoiding rain sessions, a female CUCKOO landed on a bush in the middle of the reeds.
Once another rainstorm had passed, i quickly walked to the other side, and had a scan, as i panned two birds 'got up' out of the reeds briefly, small, long tailed, and very quick. Within a second, they were back down. A short wait ensured, and one of the birds flew up again, long tailed, orange bodied and blue headed.
Quickly we both were onto the birds, and we had sporadic views for the next 30 minuites or so, before strong winds pushed them down into the reedbed.
2 BITTERN got up out of the reeds, one only very briefly, but the other up for a good 15 seconds or so as it flew a fairly long distance across the reedbed. Similarly, a Egyptian Goose also did the same, before dropping into the reedbed.
My companions phone bleeped with a bird news update, and upon opening found it to contain that dreamed for first word.
The thing that really got us going though was the next word, SUFFOLK!
"10:50, MEGA, SUFFOLK, PACIFIC SWIFT HAWKING OVER TRIMLEY MARSHES"
The inevitable look followed, part shock, part fear, and probably part desire, and it was clear what was going through both our minds, and the expected question soon spilled out "We gonna try?"
There is simply no excuse not to try, but the odd's were well and truly stacked against us, been the furthest point from the car park (almost 3 miles), and then we had to find the location in the SatNav, and then drive to the site, the chances didn't look amazing, furthermore, the fact it was a Swift we were twitching seemed almost idiotic, knowing that literally any second the bird could fly, never to be refound.
But off we set, with a fairly brisk walk back to the car, in which time i managed to ask for updates on the bird. Misreading the reply i took in the walk from the carpark to the marshes at Trimley to be 1.5 miles each way, as the text said 3 miles total...
How wrong i was...
With the SatNav set, and reading 1 hour to the carpark on Cordys Lane we went...
The scene upon arrival was fairly manic, with the small carpark and almost half the length of Cordys lane covered in parked cars. Twitchers running past, legs whirring, swearing and sweating.
Rather than choosing the rather steriotypical twitcher type, we took the decision to have a fairly brisk walk to the pools, but not to break out into a sprint, and a good thing too, because that supposed 1.5 mile walk turned out to only the one track, and it was a full 3 miles to the bird! Agghhhh
Even just 'brisk walking' a sweat started to develop on the brow, the humid conditions obviously not helping. The paths just seemed to go on, and on, but the end never seemed to get any nearer. Only once i had reached the gigantic cranes on our left hand side did i finally start to crack, we must be getting closer now? Cant be much further?, maybe just up the tempo a little?.
My upping the tempo pushed my 'brisk walk' to nearly the pace of a slow jog, and finally i started seeing the Marshes, "Up onto the Sea-wall" was uttered to me as i passed the first hide, "Not much further!" and finally, as i rounded the final bend, the typical 'scrum' had developed, but it was still a further few hundred meters, aghhhh!
Soon i found myself clambering up a fairly slippery grass sea-wall before being hammered by a series of directions, "Going left, Now right, low down, Climbing, back against the sky, over the Shelducks, Low down".
Just training my bins on as many Swifts as possible, i briefly glimpsed a white rump.
In my rush, i had left my partner behind a good way, and having had a decent view of the bird signaled him to scrambled here quick!
Ecstatic, elation, relief!
Not long after, we were both enjoying great views of this superb Asiatic Mega as it hawked low across the open water of the small estuary-side marsh. Having looked at Pacific Swift ID following the Spurn Bird i tried to recount plumage feature. White rump, easy, check, larger white throat patch, check, better defined throat patch, check, longer and more forked tail, check. That was all i could remember, but i was soon picking the bird up head on, and i kept doing it. Why?
The reason became apparent after some scrutiny, as it became clear that the bird had a slightly broader head and longer wings that Common Swift, creating a 'thinner' bodied look, while in fact it was just an illusion due to the birds head size and longer tail.
Wanting a photo of my first true 'MEGA', i grabbed for my scope, to which a few 'You'll be lucky to get one" and "Good luck" comments were made, but i started snapping away. Soon, the birds habits became obvious, and with some help from the birders around me, they often called out when the bird was feeding low over its favored area of open water, allowing me to 'spray and pray' that the bird would be in one of the pictures.
An hour or so later, mixing periods of photo taking and studying, and simply watching, i managed to get a few shots.
Having been watching the bird for about 1 1/2 hours, the bird suddenly shot off at 3pm, seemingly flying towards the docks and disappeared, soon after, an almightly rainstorm hit, drenching everybody, my raincoat suddenly came in handy after moaning about carrying it all that way in boiling heat on the way down. Soon through, it was leaking, and my jacket and jeans became soaked. With the bird having been gone for nearly 30 minuites, we decided to part from the site to escape the rain.
Getting back to the car, soaked to the bone, cold and shivering, could i care less?
Not at all,
A 7th for Britain, and a practically untwitchable bird in the past, with the last gettable bird been decades ago. This was made even better when just as we approached the car park, a friend who was in the crowd (who arrived after the birds had gone) text to say that the bird was again showing.
Brief scans around the Marshes also revealed a male Marsh Harrier, 2 Black-tailed Godwit, 16 Avocet and a fly over Little Egret!
But No! It didn't end there. Stopping in a layby not far away to have some food, i heard a few familiar notes ring out from the scrub beside us. That sounded like a Nightingale....
And then it belted out its distinctive song from right beside the car, a male NIGHTINGALE!
After a little bit, we had brief views of the male, and also a presumed female bird in the verge hawthorns, what a way to end the days birding!