Monday, 12 June 2017

The fields are on fire

As Judith was in the country and could take a day off, we visited one of our favourite reserves - Lakenheath Fen in Norfolk. This used to be the prime site in the UK for nesting golden orioles but they disappeared 5 or 6 years ago. You would rarely see them but the fluting, haunting call of the males coming the woods will always be redolent of the reserve.
We weren't after anything in particular, just a nice walk, apart from our first stop. Every year the pilgrimage is made to Weeting Heath to see the nesting stone curlews. These large waders are peculiar in that they do not nest in wet habitats but prefer dry, open fields. Weeting is ideal for them but has one issue - in the Summer it gets vey dry and the heat haze over the field is awful for seeing let alone photographing the birds, and they can also disappear down a slope out of sight very easily as well. So, we made this the first stop, getting there before 8 when it was still cool and no one else was around. It is only a short walk from the car park to the hide and we struck lucky. On the edge of the slope leading away from the rise, amongst dozens of rooks, cows, jackdaws and rabbits were two stone curlews. They spent most of the time hunkered down, but did occasionally stand up, showing us their very peculiar and striking yellow eye. Nice year tick to add to the growing list.
Lakenheath was the next stop, only about 15 minutes away. By the time we got there, the weather was very unusual for the time of year. It was quite warm but the wind was blowing a right hoolie. Out of the shelter of the trees the reeds were whipping back and forth and any birds which took off went sideways! As ever it was a lovely walk round the large reed bed and along the canal bank, but birds were noticeably absent. The only one who really showed himself was this wren, shouting the odds from the reed bed. Everyone else was keeping down out of the wind.

After Lakenheath we moved to Ouse Washes RSPB. This is not far away and is contiguous with Welney WWT reserve. I've been here a few times before, notably dipping on an oriental pratincvoel by 10 minutes but it was a new site for Judith. The reason for visiting was a pair of black-winged stilts who had just been announced to have a pair of young. These are very recent and rare breeders in the UK. A pair at Welney lost their young to crows two week ago.
Ouse Washes is basically a linear reserve, out along a river bank with a series of hides overlooking the marsh. I misread the map so we overs initially and had a slightly longer walk than necessary but eventually we found the right hide. There were a dozen or so avocets pottering about but quite quickly we got onto the stars of the show.

The two adults were feeding on the edge of the pools then disappearing into the reeds, presumably to feed their chicks. The strategy seemed to be working, along with the help from the avocets in seeing off predators.  I'm writing a week after visiting and the chicks are still there so fingers crossed. It is hoped that they will join little egrets and crane in becoming regular breeders, perhaps being joined by cattle and great white egrets and glossy ibis in the near future.
Finally, as we pottered off home we came across a glorious field of poppies. This part of East Anglia is very good for wild flowers and this was a spectacular display. Justin took all the photos which I hope do justice to the spectacle.