Tuesday, 3 May 2016

29th April - RSPB Lakenheath Fen, Lackford Lakes & Thorpeness, Suffolk

Its May day Bank Holiday weekend, its early in the morning and we were heading away to Suffolk once again.  The first stop as always would be the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath, and as we pulled into the car park just after 7.00am it was a beautiful sunny morning, but outside it was a completely different story.  There was a very strong northerly wind blowing, and the temperature was just above freezing, Not the sort of weather you would expect to encounter at this time of year.

After coffee and dressing up in clothes normally associated with the middle of winter we headed off into the reserve, taking the main path around the visitor centre and then out in the direction of East Wood.  A few Sedge Warbler could be heard singing in the bushes outside the centre, and by the railway line a Whitethroat sang from the shelter of the middle of the bush.  Away in the distance we could hear the call of a Cuckoo. 

The walk past East Wood can be quite boring and today was no exception. the only signs of life were rooks outside their nest in the Poplar trees.  We stopped at the New Fen view point where much of the reeds have been cleared out leaving quite a bit of open water, but all that was present were Coots, Mallard, a Mute Swan and several Greylag Geese.


We didn't stay long and continued along the path past Trial Wood on out left.  We turned off the main path and took the board walk to the Mere Hide.  In the scrub by  the side of the board walk a Wren was singing in the open unconcerned by us.



There was very little going on from the hide.  A pair of Mute Swans were nesting close to the hide, the male swimming around the area.  The wind was blowing across the mere, but with the blue sky above the reflections in the water were covered with blue ripples.  A single feather, probably from the nest was slowly drifting through the coloured water.


We left the hide, and joined the main path once again and walked west towards the Joist Fen.  In the willow trees dotted amongst the reeds a male Reed Bunting sang in the sunshine.


Suddenly Helen drew my attention to a large bird flying just above the trees, a Common Crane, the bird I had hoped to see here this morning.


Sadly though it was an an all to brief view as it glided down over the reeds and dropped out of sight close to the railway embankment.


Last year a pair successfully raised young from a single nest, and it looks likely that they are nesting again this year.

We reached the view point at Joist Fen, and looking out over the reeds and water the reflected blue from the sky in the water looked almost unreal.


Marsh Harriers could be seen in the distance over the reeds along with several hirundines and at least two Swifts.  On Marsh harrier drifted along the railway line, and then came over the reeds behind us out of the sun.


White clouds were now building up in the sky, appearing over the tall poplars of the wood west of New Fen.


It was very cold, very windy and very quiet.  We heard one booming Bittern, but never saw one at all.  we decided t head back to the car for coffee and the chance to warm up.  Passing Trial Wood once again a Cuckoo was calling from the back of the wood, and I managed to find the bird amongst the tangle of branches to get a very poor record shot.


After warming up we set off around Brandon Fen, but with similar results.  A Kestrel was patrolling the grassland and sedge Warblers sang from the shelter of the bushes, but little else was showing.

All through the morning, in what should have been a quiet walk through the fens and woods on a late April day, the peace was shattered by the F-15s and F-22 fighter jets taking off from nearby RAF Lakenheath.  There had been a brief lull, but now the jets were coming back from the north, coming in low over the fens, and applying their air brakes as they approached the air field.  From below they looked like something out of the Hunger games.


It is not a good sign of a successful trip when the main attention goes to the man made flying machines.


The openness of the fen and the strong wind forced us to make a decision, should we leave and head to a more sheltered spot?  There was no decision to make really, so we headed doff to Lackford Lakes, a Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve about 20 minutes from Lakenheath.  On arrival we could hear the song of a Nightingale coming from the bushes around the visitor centre.  Inside the visitor centre looking out across the pond a Mallard sat in the long grass with ducklings, another reminder that this was really spring.


We headed out around the Sailing Lakes with the Nightingale still singing, and also a Blackcap trying to compete.  Our first stop was Paul's Hide overlooking the Slough, and as we settled down a family of Shelduck were making their way across the water, the ducklings looking like they have just hatched.


The family headed across the open water, but turned back when another Shelduck flew at the ducklings in an act of aggression, probably because they were coming into their territory. They then came out of the water onto a sand bank where they all gathered around the female.


Watching the Shelduck, another bird flew in below them, a Common Sandpiper that started to feed along the edge of the island bank.


Already the decision to come here rather than brave it out at Lakenheath was proving to be the right one.

The sunshine would come and go, but when it was out it would brighten up the water, and the Tufted Ducks that were paired up and spread around the lake in front of us.


Just below the hide a Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler were singing.  The Reed Warbler played hard to get but every so often the Sedge Warbler would make an appearance.


And when it was singing you could see the wonderful orange coloured gape and throat.


The Tufted Duck came closer now in water reflecting the blue of the sky above.  the sunshine catching the head feathers and producing a reddish tinge.


On the far bank I could see a Pied Wagtail, and as i watched it run across the open mud I noticed a slower moving bird.  This turned out to be a Little Ringed Plover.  This is yet another poor record shot!


In fact there were two Little Ringed Plovers on the mud at the back of the lake, but they never came any closer.

We finally left the hide and walked around the path, taking us back to more familiar territory.  The scrape that we were watching is only relatively new, and i would imagine in the early autumn could be quite good for passage waders.

We were now walking through the woodland area, and disturbed a busy Song Thrush by the side of the path.


Wrens were singing all around us, their loud piercing song dominating the walk.  This one was quite high up in a Willow as we passed, normally they like to stay low.


We were heading for the pools on the east side of the reserve, and as we came up to Hawker Pool we could see several people looking out across the pool towards a hedgerow by the side of a concrete bank.  In the hedge alongside sat a Kingfisher.


It was a female, and sat for a while before dropping down to a post a little closer to the bank.


After a while she dropped into the water as if to bathe, and then returned to the hedge.  Later she moved closer to the bank and looked up as if to want to go in, however she didn't and nothing came out, and then she flew off around the side of the pool.

We walked on, and went into Bess's hide which overlooked Long Reach.  There were plenty of Swallows and Sand Martins flying low over the water, and in front of the hide were Tufted Duck and a pair of Great Crested Grebes.


Always lovely to see at this time of year.


A drake Gadwall passed close, and I was able to appreciate the lovely detailed plumage of this much overlooked duck, mainly because at a distance it appears grey.


Helen was scanning the edge of the lake to the left of the hide, and pointed out an orange headed duck, that was at rest.  Even at rest I knew it was a male Red-crested Pochard.


Eventually it  gave up sleeping and raised its head to reveal all its glory.


And made its way a little closer.


The vibrant colours of the head and bill are really striking.


As the Pochard drifted into the branches and out of sight I turned to my phone to see what was about and was surprised to see that yesterday a female long-tailed Duck had been reported.  looking up from my phone I saw a small grey duck with wing stripes fly past the hide and settle on the water not too far away.  I couldn't believe it, the Long-tailed Duck had just arrived.


It proceeded to dive in front of the hide, and gave some lovely views.  Clearly the weather conditions probably made it thin kit was already in Iceland.


Time was moving on, and we decided to make our way back to the car.  As we walked along one of the woodland paths we saw a Red Admiral, Small White, and this lovely male Orange Tip.


It had been the right decision to come here, and the visit had turned up some quality birds.  We headed off to the east coast stopping for provisions before arriving at our apartment in Thorpeness in the middle of a heavy rain shower.  having settled in, and the rain moving out to sea I decided to take a walk along the beach.  But as i came out of the apartment I noticed that on the mere over the road there were quite a few Swallows feeding low over the water, so once again the challenge was on to see if I could get that ultimate swallow picture.

Once again the answer was no, but the attempts turned up one acceptable one.


Suddenly all the Swallows were gone, so I turned back towards the beach, passing a family group of Jackdaws that were using the chimneys of the cottages as potential nest sites.  One sat on the wire close by preening.  I love the sky blue eye and the light grey feathers on the nape.  You can see that the feathers are all puffed up from the preening


As I walked onto the beach I could see the storm clouds a way out to sea, the rain their creating a wonderful rainbow from the sun that was now quite strong once again.


As I watched the clouds became darker and the rainbow more intense.


I walked south along the beach, and a pair of Whimbrel flew by, also heading south.


Looking back the beach and cottages of Thorpeness close to the beach looked a picture in the evening sunshine, with the white cumulus clouds as a backdrop.


I then noticed something dark in the water, and thought at first it was rubbish, then maybe a seal.  I waited and it appeared again quickly, but in the unmistakeable form of a Harbour Porpoise.  I waited trying to predict where it would appear again, and missed several times before securing this shot.


Porpoises are always very quick as they break the surface, not showing the head like a dolphin would.  They are much smaller than a bottlenose dolphin.  They are about 1.5m in length and can weigh around 50kg.  I watched it cruise quite close to the shore as it headed away to the north, looking around i wanted to point it out to someone, but no one seemed interested.  I saw another one a little later on, also heading north, but this one was much quicker and I could not get a decent view to photograph it.

I turned around and headed back along the beach enjoying the sound and sight of the waves as they crashed onto the stones of the beach.


The sun was dropping casting long shadows everywhere.


The wind that had been very strong and cold had eased now and didn't feel so cold.  I headed back in land, and walked around the car park area listening to and looking for Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps.

I came out of the car park, and heard a jackdaw call, and looked up to see it chasing another bird.  Both landed on a telegraph pole, the jackdaw stayed at the top while the smaller bird dropped to the wire.  As it did I realised that it was a Falcon, and in fact a Hobby.


it sat there appearing quite calm, but every so often would take a look up to check out where the Jackdaw was.


The jackdaw continued to watch the Hobby so the Hobby adopted a policy of not looking at the jackdaw in the hope it would get bored and go away.


The jackdaw didn't go away and finally made it's move pushing the Hobby off the wire and chasing it around the tea rooms and then watching it fly away over the bushes.


This was definitely a bonus, if I can be picky i would rather it have perched in a tree rather than on the wire over a road.  At one point a car was coming and I was praying that it would not disturb it, fortunately it didn't and it was down to the jackdaw in the end to move it on.

I made my way back to the apartment hoping that the rest of the weekend would be as good with some more special sightings, that remained to be seen.

As the sun finally set on the day looking out over the mere the small reed bed was turned golden by the late sunshine.


While the distant Windmill that appears in all the town signage was standing out against the evening sky.


The weather was set to be fair tomorrow, cold but hopefully with plenty of sunshine, along with a large share of optimism as we head for Minsmere and an early start.

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