Monday, 30 June 2014

Changeable weather at Weeting Heath and Lakenheath Fen

Yesterday I was off once again on the West Midland Bird Club coach, this time to Weeting Heath in Norfolk and Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk. The day proved to be one of highs and lows in terms of the weather, and consequently the birding!

We arrived at Weeting Heath mid-morning, and the rain started pretty much just as we stepped off the coach. However we were soon ensconced in the hide, enjoying up to 8 Stone Curlews running around on the heath, and a couple of their chicks too! We also saw 2 Stoats chasing each other around like crazy creatures, not great news if you're a Stone Curlew (or a Rabbit, of which we also saw many) but very fun to watch. Lapwings, Pied Wagtails and Stock Doves were also spotted on the heath. With the rain intensifying, we decided not to chance the woodland trail in search of Woodlarks, and instead dashed into the woodland hide. Sadly the feeders were completely empty so bird action was a bit thin on the ground, but we did see a nice Marsh Tit briefly come and check the feeders, and also Goldfinches, Chaffinches, a Great Tit family and a Green Woodpecker in the trees behind the feeders. By now the rain was getting torrential, and we whizzed back to the coach and set off for Lakenheath.

Upon arrival at Lakenheath, some brave souls decided to venture out into the wet conditions which by now could accurately be described as biblical. The rest of us stayed on the coach and ate our lunches, thinking that all the birds would be sheltering in this weather. After about 45 minutes and when the rain looked like it might be easing, we got as far as the visitor centre before it bucketed down again with renewed effort! We stayed in there for another 20 minutes or so, and managed at least to see a few birds on the feeders including Reed Bunting, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the trees.

View from the visitor centre. Please stop raining!
We finally set out when the rain again went from being torrential to merely heavy, hot-footing it to the first viewing shelter where we found most of the rest of our group. While we were here, the rain finally stopped, and the sun came out, along with ALL THE BIRDS!!

Before - rainy grey skies...
.....after - skies-a-clearing!
We saw 3 Kingfishers, which were very active - flying around a lot and perching prominently on reeds. A pair of Marsh Harriers appeared and chased each other around for a while, giving us a good chance to observe the difference in size and build between the male and the female. There were also plenty of Kestrels and a Hobby around, although we were to get much better views of many Hobbies later on! We saw 2 pairs of Common Tern and a few Reed Warblers hopping around in the reeds. A Bearded Tit, after pinging around for a bit hidden in the reeds, emerged out on top of a seedhead quite close by, giving us super views! This was particularly pleasing as the conditions immediately post-rain were quite calm, but the wind soon picked up so that later on, although we heard more Bearded Tits, we didn't see any venture up out of the reeds. Finally, after the rest of our group had moved on, Andy M spotted a Little Egret, and then a Bittern flying over the reeds, for quite a distance - awesome!

We headed off up to the next viewpoint, where we'd heard Cranes could hopefully be seen.... on the way, the sun brought out all the butterflies, and we saw Green-veined White, Ringlet, Large Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell and Meadow Brown. Here are a few pictures:

Green-veined White (Pieris napi) on Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) on Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense).

Small White (Pieris Rapae).
Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) on Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris). View large for the full 'being eyeballed by a Large Skipper' experience.
A rather pale Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) on Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense).
I also spotted a new plant to try and identify:

I think it is Black Horehound (Ballota nigra).
When we reached the next viewpoint, there were Marsh Harriers galore - at least 8 floating over the reedbed. A smashing Hobby also flew right over our heads! We didn't stay long however, as a passing couple told us where to see the Cranes from, just a bit further along the path on the river bank. We headed over and had soon located the Cranes, a pair in the field on the other side of the river. We had to keep moving around to maintain our view as the vegetation on the opposite river bank temporarily obscured the Cranes as they moved around, feeding in the field. However we all got excellent views and watched the Cranes for some time - this was only the second time seeing Cranes for me, and the first time was in rather poor light, although we did hear them trumpeting on that occasion :o) After that we all felt pretty pleased with the day, after its initially very unpromising beginning, and we set off back to the coach, enjoying more hunting Hobbies and butterfly action on the river banks as we went.

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