Tuesday 12 May 2009

Abandon Patch!

Obviously it's been very quiet on patch this last week and I've had no real reason to put finger to keypad. Take this Saturday for example I walked Rex along the River Coly to Heathayne where I saw my first Beautiful Demoiselle of the year, not in the least bit exiting but at least it always makes it feel like summer's here. Even if the weather doesn't.

Along the path near Heathayne Bridge I spotted an interesting looking plant I haven't seen before. Really inconspicuous flowers, which close up are quite pretty showing ragged fringes, they were mainly white but the older ones were dark pink.

I was going to ask if anyone knew what plant they are because I couldn't find them in any of my wildflower books. But I did eventually find them in a garden plants book.They are Tellima grandiflora 'odorata' or Fringe Cups, and are actually native to North America. They are obviously naturalised in the spot I found them as they a some distance from the nearest garden. The best thing about these flowers is their scent, it's heavenly, very reminiscent of old fashioned garden Pinks. This is all very exiting stuff isn't it. What do you mean, no?

With highlights like this I reckoned it was time to... Abandon patch!! Fortunately this dull period on patch had coincided conveniently with Bun's and my planned Golden Oriole trip and at just after 1:00 am on Sunday morning we were on our way to Lakenheath in Suffolk. We arrived at 05:15 am, the sun was just rising and before we'd even left the car park we heard the first Cuckoo of the trip. Not long after this we had good views of one in flight, my first ever actual sighting of one. We saw a second later in the morning and heard a total of at least five calling. As we walked down the river towards the poplar plantations we were really fortunate to hear a Bittern 'booming' (another first, for both of us this time), it continued off and on for around an hour. I tried to get a recording but soon gave up because it stopped at the exact moment I switched on the camera, on every occasion I tried it! Talking of cameras, I'll warn you now that there are going to be some shocking attempts at bird photos coming up.The whole trip was a photographic disaster area! I didn't even get a chance to photograph some of the best birds, but I must admit this was probably because I spent plenty of time 'enjoying' them before even thinking of photos.

Lakenheath Fen at Dawn

The riverside path, in the distance,
behind Bun, you can see one of the poplar plantations.

Sedge Warblers were incredibly abundant here and they weren't in the least bit skulking either, sitting up on the tops of the reeds delivering their songs in full view. Well until the camera came out obviously! When we reached the third plantation we heard our first ever Golden Orioles singing, always so much better in 'real life' as opposed to listening to a recording. Not long after this I actually saw one, a male too! It showed really well in some low bare branches along the plantation's edge. I beckoned to Bun, but lost sight of the bird in doing so... A while later though Bun spotted another male right in the very top of a tree and we both got excellent views, even seeing it singing! It was only 7:00 am too! There were only a handful of people around to begin with but at 7:00am the 'Golden Oriole guided walk' began and soon the place was teeming, like so:

Oriole admirers

This was our cue to move on to the next target bird - Stone Curlew. On the walk back to the car I had a dragonfly tick with my first ever Hairy Dragonfly. I was having such a bad day with the camera I couldn't even get a photo of this! This gaudy little fellow was far too slow to avoid the camera though:

The very cool caterpillar of a moth called 'The Drinker' (so named because the caterpillar apparently drinks early morning dew)

Here's a very short video with two little bursts of the Oriole's song to give you an idea of what it was like to be there. I'd go again tomorrow, great birds, every bit as good as expected!

Next stop was Weeting Heath NR, where we paid £ 2.50 each to sit in a very crowded hide and look through the heat haze at a shimmering field of rabbits. I was just nodding off when Bun announced that there were in fact 38 rabbits in view.... A sign it was time to leave maybe....?

We decided to find a Stone Curlew elsewhere and were soon enjoying good views of one at another site

Next target bird was Montague's Harrier, which would be another lifer for us both. We arrived at a hush-hush, undisclosed sight and didn't have to wait very long before getting good views of a female, a very distinctive bird it was too and quite simply spectacular! Later we saw two females up together, and then 'the icing on the cake' a superb male giving unbelievably good views as he quartered a couple of nearby fields.

Next stop was Stiffkey where we pitched camp before moving on to Weybourne to look for the reported Great Grey Shrike. It had been elusive and the wind was getting very strong and things were just beginning to look pretty bleak when I spotted it sitting up on some brambles. It then came even closer landing on a fence just a few yards away. It was a real looker too, in summer plumage, it appeared to have a lovely pinkish flushing to the breast. I had it all lined up in the scope for a photo and just as I pressed the shutter it flew off, in Great Spotted Cuckoo fashion, away and over the brow of a nearby hill.

Next stop was at Stiffkey Fen (a place I'd never heard of before) where a Temminck's Stint had been reported. It wasn't showing though. The fen had lots of nice birds never the less. with nesting Avocets, Black-headed Gulls, Common Terns, a Little ringed Plover and a flock of about 40 Brent Geese.

Stiffkey Fen

Final stop of the day was here.

The Bowling Green Inn at Wells-Next -The- Sea.
Here we reenacted our January visit by having the 'quiche of the day', this time without being ridiculed too! ;-)

First thing Monday morning we walked back down to Stiffkey Fen and this time spotted the Temminck's Stint almost immediately, here it is:

See! Stunning.

Bun's pager had been telling us of ten Dotterel in a field in Cambridgeshire. Dotterel would be yet another lifer for us, so that's where we headed next. The route to Whittlesey took us past Wolferton Triangle, so we just had to do a couple of circuits, you never know!? The back half of a Muntjac Deer disappearing into the undergrowth was a first for me (seriously!) another Muntjac later in the day was my second ever and was whole too! Crossing the fens we saw a male Hen Harrier from the car, which was a nice bonus. At Whittlesey we struggled to find the right field because the pager kept saying 'in the pea field'. This was in fact a field planted with onions, it's just called 'the pea field' obvious really! The northeasterly wind was biting cold but the sun was shining and the field was covered by a strong heat haze, the obliging Dotterel were firmly hunkered down in the furthest part of the field.

The pea field, complete with ten Dotterel.
They were right at the back of this huge brown field.

It was so cold that I made a cosy den halfway down a bank overlooking the field. Out of the wind we were able to sit here for ages waiting for the birds to come closer but they didn't. Still, on one occasion a thick cloud obscured the sun briefly, reducing the haze and allowing superb views for a good 10 seconds!! Well worth the wait, the females were superb. Dotterel was lifer number three.

And here they are, seven of them to be exact....though who'd know any different?
Worst photo ever or what?

Our last stop before heading home was at Little Paxton Pits. Our target birds were Turtle Dove and Nightingale. We had only just entered the reserve when Bun spotted a bird landing in a dead tree, it was a Turtle Dove. Very jammy! Only my second ever! We had great scope views but again it flew off before photos could be taken, and we didn't see another in the three hours we were at the reserve. The Nightingales here were singing from the moment we arrived, in broad daylight. We saw another two Cuckoos in flight at very close range too. In the last of the evening sun we were extremely lucky to actually see a Nightingale singing. We were listening to it when I suddenly spotted it, it was perched out on some hawthorn blossom , in full view and in full song! Brilliant. I might even have said that it was the highlight of the whole trip but on seeing my first Golden Oriole I experienced a tiny rush of adrenalin, and the accompanying 'butterflies in the stomach', which can't really be argued with, can it!?

We left Paxton Pits at 8:00 pm and I was dropping Bun off at his house at 00:45 am. So in almost exactly 48 hours off patch I had seen three lifers, plus my first ever views of Cuckoo, first ever 'booming' Bittern and fist view of singing Nightingale. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Roll on next time! :-)

1 comment:

Jimmy Maxwell said...

Love your description of the Heath Frits on Exmoor. We're heading there from Scotland next Sunday by caravan to see them for the first time. Were up past Oban last week with the Chequered Skippers which are one of OUR real specialities. I'm really a life birder but can't resist finding new insects too - Large Blue and Wood White last year. Best regards, Jimmy.