Sunday, 5 May 2013

Breckland birding - Cuckoos and Stone Curlews

With south-westerly winds there was little point in heading for either east or north Norfolk. Migrants would probably be thin on the ground so instead we decided to take a trip around the Brecks to see if we could mop up a few species.
Nick suggested we visit Lakenheath, Weeting Heath and Santon Downham and if anything good turned up on the north coast we would be reasonably well placed to make a dash in that direction.
At Lakenheath Fen a Cuckoo was singing as we stepped out the car, my first of the year (Nick had one earlier in the day not far from Eaton). As we made our way over to the visitor centre, a Cuckoo alighted briefly on a fence post within several meters of the building before being chased off by a second Cuckoo. Hearing them is one thing but seeing them is another, and not one but two! Too quick though for even a record shot.
I asked at the centre if there were any Golden Orioles in, 'None singing' I was told. 'So does that mean there is some females then?' I asked. 'Maybe' was the reply. So with those vague details we headed in the direction of the poplar trees. We didn't see or hear any, maybe some females are there but you'd be doing well to pick them out. We headed along the bank parallel to the plantation listening to Reed and Sedge Warblers and to one of the Cuckoos. We kept an eye out for the male Red-footed Falcon reported from the previous day but didn't see it (it was reported later though). We were, however, a little surprised not to see any Hobbys at all. I believe Lakenheath is used as a staging post by them and when they arrive their numbers can top fifty birds, that has to be impressive.
From Lakenheath we headed next for Weeting Heath, home of that fine Thick-knee, the Stone Curlew. Our luck was a little better here and we enjoyed distant views of three birds from the west hide. And when I mean distant, I mean distant. Not a photographers dream really, but the hides and the reserve are not here for the benefit of us lens jockeys! The only bird I've seen away from Spain was one Julian Wylie found on 20th March 2010 on Sherkin Island in west Cork, so it was good to see these ones.
I cropped the crap out of the shot below and sharpened it to within an inch of its life, you can just about make out that its a Stone Curlew.

Stone Curlew, Weeting Heath, Nofolk - 4th May 2013
From there we headed to a spot near Santon Downham to look for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. We lucked out on this one too but strolling along the bank of the Little Ouse river we had nice views of three Crossbills (one fine red male and two females) taking a drink from the river's edge. Before I got the lens on them they picked up and headed off with the rest of the flock. Still my best Crossbill views ever, normally only seen they on the tops of conifer trees against the light or flying over going 'chup' chup'. Other then that many of the common warblers were in song, Blackcap, Willow and Chiffchaff as well as plenty of Brimstone butterflys and Orange tips.
From there we passed a couple of likely looking spots outside Thetford for Nightjar or Woodlark, definitely worth staying late in the office some evening and heading there on the way home for some Nightjar action.
Finally we stopped off at the BTO Nunnery lakes reserve in Thetford where we searched in vain for a female Whinchat, we checked suitable habitat but no sign. A flock of six Common Swifts were the best there and the first of the year also for me.
On the way back this nice Red-legged Partridge posed for a few shots. To many others these must be trash birds, but I still like them and this one gave me the only decent photo opportunity of the day.

Red-legged Patridge, Thetford, Norfolk - 4th May 2013
The winds swing a bit to the south and southeast early in the week so next weekend it may be back to some migrant hunting and maybe a visit to north Norfolk to look for Temminck's Stint.

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