Monday, 1 July 2013

Stone Curlews, Spotted Flycatchers and sad snakes at Weeting Heath & Lakenheath Fen

Time once more for the monthly West Midland Bird Club jaunt. Yesterday we went to Weeting Heath in Norfolk and Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk. At our usual stop en route at Cambridge services, I remembered watching the cheeky Rooks on a previous occasion eating scraps and jumping in the bins to look for food! So I thought I would share a bit of my sandwich with them this time:

Give me your food!

Rooks are cool.

We started at Weeting Heath first and with only just over an hour to look around, some serious prioritisation was in order. After a quick peer at the Stone Curlews, which fortunately were showing very well with several visible fairly close to the West Hide, I decided to try and address one of the gaping holes in my life list, Woodlark. We headed off up the woodland trail and I spotted a couple of new plants to try and learn:

Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare).

White Campion (Silene latifolia).
The Viper's Bugloss was very popular with these butterflies which I think are Large Skippers (Ochlodes sylvanus), please correct me if I'm wrong though as I'm not too good on butterflies!

Large Skippers (Ochlodes sylvanus) on
Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare).

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) on
Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare).

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) on
Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare).
Alas, we didn't have any luck with the Woodlark, although we did find Yellowhammer, Garden Warbler and Whitethroat among others, and had an enjoyable walk. Back on the main reserve lovely nesting Spotted Flycatchers next to the path were a highlight of the day!

We headed off to Lakenheath Fen, and upon arrival a few of us decided to try for Turtle Dove (yet another shocking omission from my life list) back up around the bridge near the reserve entrance. This led to my first ever encounter with a Grass Snake, however I am afraid it is a sorry tale! Whilst walking up the road, we spotted something in the middle of it which soon turned out to be a sizeable but coiled up apparently dead Grass Snake, with quite fresh-looking blood and flies on it. We assumed that it had been run over although there was no sign of any specific injury.

A sorry sight :o(
However when Chris poked the snake, its head moved! It wasn't quite dead yet!

Not dead yet! Poor snake!
I couldn't bear to leave it to die in the middle of the road, it was too sad! Mike and Chris were too scared to pick it up, the pansies, so I wrapped it in some big leaves to avoid bloodying myself and moved it to the grass verge to die in peace. We headed off up the road but couldn't find any Turtle Doves so walked back down to the reserve. However when we got to where we'd left the snake, it had uncoiled and was looking considerably more active! Maybe its injuries weren't as bad as they seemed, or maybe they would finish it off eventually......we left the snake to its uncertain fate.

Godspeed, Grass Snake......
The wind had picked up considerably once we got onto the main reserve and as a result, many of the birds were keeping a low profile. We only heard but did not see Cuckoo and Bearded Tit which was a bit of a shame. There were however Marsh Harriers galore, and we saw a few more butterflies such as these Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae) gamely clinging onto what I think might be Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) in the wind:

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) on Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense).
I didn't get a chance to do any drawing due to the wind, although with the scanner being out of action anyway I would have had to wait until we'd sorted that out to post this. Despite it being a bit quiet on the bird front it was great to be out in the sunshine (although I think I should have re-applied my sunscreen - ouch), and although it was in a sad context I think getting close to a Grass Snake was what I'll remember most about this day.


  1. Valiant effort moving the poor snake. Lakenheath is one of my local haunts - Oriole's are v elusive this year. You'll have to come back next year and I'll show you the goodies ;)

  2. Thanks Jonny - hopefully the snake's suffering is over one way or the other now. Yes, we go every year but this was the first year we had no sign of the Orioles - have at least heard, if not always seen them, previously. Ah I will let you know when we next visit, your local knowledge would be much appreciated! :o)