Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Brecks 23 May

The Brecks, with their long list of speciality birds, are just over an hour up the road. Steve, Kevin and myself booked the day off, and as it was an inset day we took our boys (all year 6, age 10/11). Steve’s boy S#1 was on camera duties.

Hockwold RSPB reserve is a piece of continental countryside set in an intensive agricultural monoculture. It’s home to exotic birds like Golden Oriole, Common Crane, and recently Red-Footed Falcon as well as scarce UK birds like Bittern, Barn Owl and Nightingale. We didn’t see any of them. We did, however, get fantastic scope-filling views of Bearded Reedling. We had flocks, yes flocks, of Hobbies. Several Marsh Harriers quite close up, and good views of more common birds such as Kingfisher, Greenshank, Stonechat, Shoveller, Gadwall, Reed Warbler, and Common Tern. We heard a brief snatch of Golden Oriole song, and S#1 got a fantastic photo of a male Golden Oriole which had an uncanny resemblance to the picture on an information board.

We went on to Weeting Heath, home of the Stone Curlew. The staff were somewhat downbeat on our chances of seeing them, and as we sat in the hide we realised that even as they took our £2.50 they knew all we would see was baby Lapwings. We saw Jay, Roe Deer, and a pair of Spotted Flycatchers, but all the same…

A phone call later and we were stood at a nearby heath. Steve’s birding radar was turned up to 11 today and he soon had a pair of Stone Curlews. They gave the best views I’ve ever seen of this glorious species. The yellow legs, eyes and bill , and the buff under-tail all gave the bird an unexpected exotic appearance. The pair displayed, and as one jumped on top of the other we got the full Attenborough. We had Curlew bubbling away here too.

With an hour before dusk we popped into East Wretham Heath. The lads went off after the sheep, but a quick warning that the surrounding grass was packed with poisonous snakes just waiting for small boys and they were back on the path. We added Egyptian Goose, Teal, Tufted Duck, and Linnet to the list, then went to the excellent Angel Inn for some food.

Finally we headed off in search of Nightjars. First we went to Mayday Farm. We heard a distinctive high-pitched squeaking, and after we had told the boys to shut up we heard a possible Long-Eared Owl “squeaky gate” call too. Then on to another site where we had a dark shape fly past that was probably Woodcock. We listened, but could hear nothing but the howling wind. It was pitch black and midnight, and the boys were spooked and tired, so we headed for home.

The list doesn’t look great, but to be honest, I’m not sure a distant Crane peeking above the reeds would have added to the fun of the day. We saw some cracking birds close up, and were entertained throughout. I was kept awake on the drive home by the boys shrieking with laughter as they watched scenes of Star Wars re-enacted by them on some Norfolk Heaths.

Edit 25 May: Kevin sent through his down-scope photos of Stone Curlew:


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