Thursday, 7 May 2015

1st May - Lakenheath Fen & Lackford Lakes, Suffolk

With the May bank Holiday upon us, we were off to our usual destination at this time of year, the lovely county of Suffolk.  As with every other year it was an early start and a long drive to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen.  we arrived about 7.30, and after a picnic breakfast set off around the reserve.  

While there was sunshine and a few clouds it was quite cold, just above freezing, and the wind from the north.  At the visitor centre a Reed Bunting was singing close to the deck over the pond.  It is unusual to get such a close view of the Reed Bunting, a male it looks quite handsome with the black head markings and white moustache.  Its such a shame that it's song is so weak and annoying.

The reeds were alive with the song of both Sedge and Reed Warblers, normally the Reed Warblers are more confiding, the Sedge Warblers hidden away in amongst the bramble or hawthorn, but today as we came onto the main path a Sedge Warbler was singing in a Willow tree out in the open.

A little further on there was a burst of scratchy song.  Whitethroats were singing from the bramble by the side of the railway line, but this was a little more tuneful, but yet not as fluty as that of a Blackcap.  It had to be a  Garden Warbler.  I searched the trees and managed to locate it singing in the middle.  As always it never came out into the open, but as it sang it pushed forward the throat, and the feathers behaves in just the same way a Whitethroat does when it sings.

We could hear Cuckoo from the trees by the visitor centre, and then as we headed down the main path one flew past us and into a nearby tree.  It was still quite distant, but this was my first Cuckoo of the year.

Just before we headed alongside the railway line Helen stopped at a fresh mole hill.  The soil was moving, and just maybe there was the chance to catch a glimpse of the illusive mole?

We stood and waited and watched.

Exciting stuff, but it was all we saw, the soil moving as the mole created the hill from the inside.

Over at RAF Lakenheath the F-15 jets were taking off and heading north.

I know its not nature, but its flying and they are very impressive.

We stopped at the New Fen view point where there were Coots with newly hatched youngsters, the chicks were following the adults who were diving for pieces of vegetation to feed them with.  The chicks not yet old enough to be able to dive 

From the view point we walked alongside the Poplar trees.  Another Cuckoo flew past, and turned into the trees, this time being much closer.

These are some of the best shots I have managed to get of Cuckoo.

It then flew to an even better position, more in the open

Finally it headed off and we continued down the path.  A pair of male Whitethroat were engaged in a squabble in the bramble by the reed bed.

And on the edge of the wood a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming high in the tree.  We managed to find it, and watched it drumming on a small dead branch .  I wonder how they manage to decide which branches will provide the perfect tone.  You can just see the translucent third eye lid that appears when they drum or peck to protect the eye.

Next stop was the hide in front of the small patch of open water.  As we walked the board walk Reed Warblers continued to sing while hidden away in the reeds.

In front of the hide was another Coot family, this time with five youngster that look more like Moorhens than Coot at this age

With the chicks not being that old, the adults were busy feeding them.

It didn't pay to drift away from the adults.

With little else on view from the hide we set off towards the Jupp View Point.  On some of the other pools of open water further Coot families could be seen, and on the way we were continuously serenaded by the singing Reed Warblers and the Cetti's Warblers.

At first it was quiet overlooking the reeds, but gradually things began to move.  Swifts could be seen moving though, along with distant Swallows.  Then the first Marsh Harrier appeared, a male and it was collecting nest material and dropping into the reeds

There were several pairs, but mostly all in the distance.  A distant Hobby put in an appearance but despite waiting it or any other never came close.  The raptors count was then made up by a distant Sparrowhawk, Buzzards circling over the woods, and a Kestrel hovering over the railway line.

Looking back the reeds and Poplars looked quite splendid in the morning sunshine.

It was now just over an hour since the F-15s had taken off and from the north there was the sound of jet engines approaching.  They were coming back, I suspect they had been up to Scotland.  They returned in pairs coming in low and baking around to the west to land back at RAF Lakenheath

On the open water a Mallard was taking her ducklings out for probably their first swim.  She still has 10, I wonder how many will survive.

The weather was still quite cool and not that conducive to Hobbys, so we decided to head back along the main path to the car park.

At the New Fen a pair of Marsh Harriers were engaged in a food pass, difficult to photograph, but you can see the exchange of something from the male.

And the grab by the female

She was successful and disappeared into the reeds while the male headed off over the reeds.

When the sun came out the sheltered spots were quite warm, and even with the cool air several butterflies could be seen along side the path.  This was my first Green-veined White of the year.

As we reached the visitor centre a Goldfinch posed nicely in a branch against the blue sky, the feeders obviously a big attraction.

From Lakenheath we headed to Lackford Lakes a reserve that is owned by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, and one that I have always wanted to visit.  It is an area of lakes, streams and woodland that was created by gravel extraction, and then allowed to return to nature.  It is a reserve well known for Kingfishers so we were hopeful of some good views.

To our surprise there was no entrance fee, the trust relies mainly on subscriptions and donations, which must make it very hard to maintain a reserve such as this.

As we walked along the paths though it was clear that this is a well kept reserve, very intimate and probably supported well by locals, it just had that feel about it.

So we headed out towards the hides.  Both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler could be heard singing, but it was only the Chiffchaff that I was able to see in the trees.

The pools and scrapes were very quiet, and we did not stay too long in the hides.  As we walked through a woodland glade a Jay appeared quite close.  Jays are always welcome birds to photograph, mainly because they can be quite shy, and fly off at the slightest movement.

We walked around the the area where we had been advised the Kingfishers were, and took seats in Bess's Hide.  Out on the water Swallows, Sand Martins and Hose Martins were feeding, and in the distance there were a pair of Common Terns.

On what is probably tern nesting platforms Black-headed Gulls terrorised the Tufted Ducks, and a Common Sandpiper flew in to feed along the edges of the floating platform.

There were several pairs of Greta Crested Grebes on the water, and I could see at least one nest.  One Grebe swam close to the hide, allowing me the chance to get some pictures of this beautiful bird in full summer plumage.  Helen likened it to a Japanese Samurai, which I had never thought of before, but could clearly see the resemblance.

In Victorian times the grebes were killed for their feathers which would be used to adorn Ladies hats, it seems tragic now that such a beautiful bird would be sacrificed in such a way.

At one point it went from sight, and as I watched a small duckling appeared in its place.

This yellow duckling was part of a mixed Mallard family, the female have probably ended up with a partial dinner job!

Unfortunately the Kingfishers did not appear, and time was moving on, so we decided to head back.  The walk alongside the stream was sheltered and once again there were Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs plus this singing Goldcrest.

In the sheltered spot butterflies would fly along over the nettles.  These were mainly female Orange Tips.

But every so often there would be a male, settling occasionally on the nettles.

In addition to the Orange Tips there were Bee Flies and this Speckled Wood.

We headed back to the visitor centre where we were entertained while drinking tea by a Moorhen that would cling on to the feeder, and appear to shake it to get the seed out (there was a squirrel guard on it) and then drop down and eat up the seed.  More conventional was a pair of Great Tits that approached the feeder with care only to just manage to escape the attack of a male Sparrowhawk.  Quite an interesting cup of tea and cake

From Lackford we headed up to Thetford to stop at a supermarket, and then turned east to our final destination and cottage, Thorpeness.  Once settled in we decided to drive to Dunwich Heath, but our efforts to find any Dartford Warblers was thwarted by the strong northerly wind.  In fact I can't recall seeing anything of interest on the heath at all.

It was then back to the flat, for dinner and early night.  It had been an early start, and will be another tomorrow.  The weather looked good so it was off to Minsmere.

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