Tuesday, 14 February 2017

More Fun With Finches

The Brecks - 13th February 2017

I have not taken people out for a trip for some months now but I was unprepared for the response to my casual ‘Anyone fancy doing the Brecks on Monday?’ email. 

And so at 7:30 yesterday morning I had 25 people massed in the car park of RSPB Lakenheath ready to head out onto the reserve with a promise of long-legged marshy birds of various types. 

A fine watery sunrise - Antony Wren

Some of the posse... Gill Price

As I suspected the walk down was quiet, with the cold wind at our backs and just a few Redwing, tits and clattering Woodpigeons for our troubles but the group had seen a Barn Owl just before I arrived so they had already had a pre-walk fix to tide them over. We had all driven past seven Roe Deer in the new plantation on the way in and two more were seen in the older cover. 

There are so many dead fall and hung trees in these woods that they may not last that much longer in their current state. They still ring with the ghostly memories of warm spring days when the susurration of a million heart shaped leaves rattling in the wind competed with your a ears for the ethereal notes of the ever shy Golden Orioles.The Orioles are currently a bird of the past and recolonisation of East Anglia’s poplar plantations seems unlikely and as such the old matchstick woods of Lakenheath are being allowed to dwindle and collapse with a view to allowing a succession of moisture loving Willow and Alder Carr to join up the patchwork of now twenty year old reedbeds. New trees have already been planted amongst their dying trunks to aid this process along.

Marsh Harriers fresh out of roost were already out hunting and using the gusting easterly to good effect and they followed us all the way down to the Joist Fen view point. The threat of a dull gloomy day seemed to be abating and blue skies and a hazy sun were trying to push through. We stood for an hour scanning the massive reedbeds with the aforementioned Harriers frequently spooking large flocks of Shoveler and Tufted Ducks from hidden pools while Greylags and a few Canada Geese performed circuits but we could find nothing different amongst them bar a single CanLag with a squeaky voice.
A blue view over Joist Fen

A Great White Egret flew down the southern side and three more were seen from the river bank in the adjacent fields but it was the Cranes we were after and they did not disappoint and once we had seen the first two we soon added several more until nine had been seen in languid flights across the marsh on enormous wings with fingers bowed up on every downstroke. The light reflected off their silver forewings and white necks gleamed in the sunshine but if they were calling we could not hear as the wind would have taken anything away from these already distant birds.


A Kingfisher spent some time fishing from the reeds in the channel in front and Cetti’s Warblers sang but of Bitterns there was no sign at all. I seem to be having a real problem with seeing one this year!

The walk back added a couple of obliging Buzzards and Little Egrets along the river bank and a large flock of Fieldfares were scattered over an almost black loamy field. 

The newly managed area looks superb and I can imagine it being a great spot on a spring evening
There was time for a quick coffee and then we were off to Santon Downham in an eleven car convoy that we somehow managed to keep together. The next couple of hours were spent in the company of the Bramblings, Chaffinches, Coal Tits and Treecreepers of the line of old Beech trees. Quite where the hundreds of Bramblings from last Saturday had gone I do not know but I suspect that there were still about 40 or so around and they showed very well for my crowd of admirers. To be honest it was a Nuthatch that I loved best as he kept coming back down to the bole in a Beech for an energetic bath.

Bramblings - Antony Wren
The peace was frequently disturbed by the sound of Tornados tearing apart the air overhead and unfortunately on one such occasion I had just picked up the melancholy song of a Woodlark up above us but it had drifted elsewhere by the time the thunder had ceased. Buzzards mewed and a single Little Grebe was down on the river but there were no Grey Wagtails.

And the first hoverfly of the year - an Eristalis tenax

A leisurely lunch and then to Lynford Arboretum for the remains of the day where the wind had dropped and the sun still glowed. As such we were treated a superb display from the pre-roosting Hawfinches with probably just over 30 seen in the tops of those pines once again with their bull necks, steely bills and flashing white wing bars. Crossbills also obliged although they were tricky to get in good light but through the scope you could seen the rich reds and greens. One male perched up on the Hawfinch pines and another dropped into the riverside trees so I think that the majority of my crew went away happy.Tony O and Marna also joined us for the finch fest and there was a great atmosphere within the party.

Hawfinch - Tony Orwell

Hawfinch - Tony Orwell

Crossbill - Tony Orwell
Marsh Tits were once again singing with two different songs heard – a mournful solo repeated tewing and a Crossbill like gypping from two males at each other across the paddock. Siskins wheezed overhead and showed well in the Alders and two Treecreepers eventually gave themselves up to Gill. 

Brambling called overhead and several more were in the avenue hedge where they were picking the buds from the Blackthorn in the company of two pair of Bullfinches. The males of the latter kept well hidden and it was nice to be able to give the females the attention they are due.

With the day – and crew – starting to fade there was just time to pop down to the gravel pits to look for any interesting wildfowl and a male Goldeneye with the Tufted Ducks and two Goosanders were duly bagged. That cold easterly had returned and with the sun slipping behind the trees the temperature was rapidly dropping and it was time to call it a day and head for home after a very successful venture.

A tranquil end to the day - Gill Price

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