Monday 17 April 2023

A Suffolk Weekender - Day 1 - 15th April 2023 Suffolk adventure:

It was a bit of a tortuous drive up to Lowestoft on Friday morning and I had a short stop at Hen Reedbeds just to stretch my legs.  Marsh Harriers were displaying and a Yellow Wagtail flew over but it was cold and blowy and after looking at the lovely Cowslips and some Bee-flies, I retreated to the warmth of the car and continued onwards passing a Red Kite feeding in a garden in Wrentham on the way.

15th April:

We were meeting at 8am so Antony and I had a preliminary look at Westleton Common in the hope of finding the first Nightingales of the season. It was very chilly and grey but two males started up almost as soon as we got out of the car which was a grand start.  One of them put on a fine show in a still bare Sallow with full vibrato song, loud huweets and growling croaks. 


This sandy site is covered in clumps of glorious Gorse and almost bare sandy areas which were covered in the most luxurious carpet of Cladonia Reindeer Lichen.  It was too cold for any insects whatsoever!

Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were in song and a single Redwing was a good mid-April surprise.

Our subsequent walk around Minsmere may have been cool to start with but the woodland was alive with singing Blue, Great and Coal Tits, singing Treecreepers and noisy Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers while Goldfinches and Greenfinches were in song and display from the hidden canopy. The number of Grey Squirrels was terrifying! Through the trees we could hear the cacophony of birds on the scrapes with Black-headed and Med Gulls, Sandwich Terns, Avocets, Redshanks, Oystercatchers and even Barnacle Geese all audible while Sand Martins fizzed overhead.

A fine cock Pheasant  - note the small Ticks in his wattles - Antony Wren

 Pheasant  - Antony Wren

The Bittern Hide turned out to be a prime stop and although we did not see a Bittern from here we heard several booming in all directions while invisible Sedge Warblers energetically proclaimed their arrival and Cetti’s Warblers hopped around in the open below us and gave exceptional views. 

Two drake and a female Garganey whizzed towards the scrapes and the usual other duck were all seen on the move.  Bearded Tits were very vocal and we all picked up the odd one whizzing over the reed tops but a Water Rail required quick reactions as it flew across the pool below us. Marsh Harriers were constantly on view and Med Gulls drifted over with the Black-heads.  

Marsh Harrier - Philippa Carr

Back into the woods where territorial Chiffchaffs acted like we were not there and a Firecrest sang from further back in the pines but was out of ear for most of the crew.


The common below Whin Hill held no Wheatears but ten Jays noisily moved around the edges with a couple doing fantastic Buzzard mewing while up above five of the real thing did likewise with a Sparrowhawk in the same thermal – yes it was warming slightly!

Ten Spot Ladybird - Antony Wren

Wood Ant  - Antony Wren

Red Deer run - Antony Wren


Buzzards - such different profiles

A Willow Warbler and several Sedge Warblers were encountered just before the Island Mere Hide and a single Reed Warbler was quietly chuntering away too.  Sometimes it is the commonest bird that puts on the best display and a pumped up male Wren gave a storming performance as he enticed his new lady friend to come and join him.  It worked and the two left together.

Wren  - Antony Wren

Wren - what a little stunner

Island Mere added Tufted Ducks and both Great Crested and Little Grebes and better views of Reed Buntings and Bearded Tits but although we could hear Bitterns we took what felt like an age to actually see one as it flew in from the east and dropped out of view.  Marsh Harriers were constant companions with one red tagged male being especially obliging in his hunting circuit.  The whiteboard informed us of a new species of Gallinago being around and we soon found two Wesley’s in the cut area out front.

Marsh Harrier  - Antony Wren

Marsh Harrier  and Carrion Crow - Antony Wren

two Wesley’s Snipe

Retracing our steps we headed down to the West and South hides and although the light was in out faces we still had great views of the Gulls and Terns and found an adult Kittiwake and several 1st-summer Common Gulls and the usual ‘big three’ amongst them. Single of Turnstone, Ringed Plover and Curlew were the only other waders noted.  The wall of sound was wondrous to hold and being told by oncoming birders that ‘it was very quiet’ is always disappointing.

Kittiwake, seven Black-headed and three 1st-summer Common Gulls

Sandwich Terns 

More Meds ‘cawwwwwed’ over us with glossy black heads and blood red bills and a Little Egret in his finery went the other way along with our first Grey Heron.

adult Med Gulls

Little Egret

Down at the sluice we found a single Swallow and the warming concrete had 24-Spot Ladybirds, Zebra Jumping Spider and a few Chironomid Midges basking.  As expected the sea was home to nothing bar a few large gulls but the blooming Gorse with its wall of coconut scent produced Linnets and Goldfinches and a couple of dapper Stonechats but no Dartford Warblers or Adders.

Zebra Jumping Spider - Salticus scenicus - Antony Wren

7-spot Ladybird - Antony Wren

24-spot Ladybird

Claytonia perfoliata - a non native growing well in the dunes




Sea Kale

The open viewing platform gave us even closer views of a second batch of Sandwich Terns noisily erickkkking just in front and amongst the Meds and Black-headed Gulls I found a stunning full adult hybrid between the two.  It was a cracking bird that squarely sat between the two parents with a perfectly shaped BHG body and beak but with rich blood red Med Gull legs and bill. The hood was black and went further down the nape than on a BHG but not as far as a Med. The open wing was pointed like a BHG and with a slightly less obvious BHG underwing pattern which was less contrasting due to the slightly paler upperparts.  There is always something to learn.

Sandwich Terns

2s Med Gull

Black-headed x Med Gull

Black-headed x Med Gull

Black-headed x Med Gull

Black-headed x Med Gull

Med Gulls

Med Gull

Continuing around we failed to pick up the Grasshopper Warbler but did get stupendously long flight views of a Bittern that flew over the North Bank gleaming ginger in the sunshine. There were no Stone Curlews to be found but a smart Halictus rubicundus was seen near where the Bee-wolves will appear later and a couple of Peacocks zoomed around.  The Garganey was not visible from the North Hide but a Blackcap was singing with a beak full of nest material just outside and I found seven Lapwing nests on the marsh in front. A Goldcrest followed us back down the path.

Bittern - Philippa Carr

Halictus rubicundus

A few minutes with the Sand Martin colony (and again no Adders) and time for a look at the Ant-lion pits before lunch.  Most were small dimples in the sand but one was big and deep and occasionally showed signs of an inhabitant inside.

Sand Martins - Antony Wren

Ant-lion pit

Buzzards and Marsh Harriers circled over as we ate and a Pine Ladybird joined the invert list.

Pine Ladybird

Onto Westleton Heath where two male Woodlarks greeted our arrival with an appropriate serenade and Antony’s Emperor Moth lure attracted several stunning males in quick succession, one of which posed rather nicely.  A slow walk up the main path in now warmish and calming conditions raised my hopes of finding Dartford Warbler but I have had real trouble with the species up here this year.  Thankfully all was good and we found a very active pair.  There was a little bit of song and a couple of display flights from the male and he looked especially resplendent decked out in vinous claret and steely blue-grey. 

Emperor Moth

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler - Philippa Carr

Flint Eastwood - Antony Wren

Several pairs of Stonechat were seen and the males were counter singing their thin reedy notes off each other.  A single disappearing Yellowhammer and the distant notes of a Nightingale were the only other birds but we did find a couple of small Dor Beetles of some description, a Spider Hunting Wasp and a mating pair of Gonia picea – a fly with eyes that are spaces miles apart in both sexes!


Spider Hunting Wasp - Anoplius viaticus

Dor Beetle

Gonia picea

A failed attempt at the Westleton Common Nightingales followed as we were a little too early so it was time for a last orders coffee at Dunwich Beach café during which time Antony found a chunky adult female Hen Harrier quartering Dingle Marshes which was areal bonus and another new bird for several of the party.  The Common Scoter flock was still offshore but was too hazy to discern if there were still any Velvets amongst them.

We wended up back on the Common where with a bit of fieldcraft and patience good views were had of two of the there male Nightingales as they sorted out the boundaries of their territories.  It was a pleasant way to finish of what actually felt like a proper spring day.

Sallow - Antony Wren

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