To be a birder is to be a perpetual optimist. Today is going to be the day. The day when rarities just pop up on front of you, when bushes drip birds, when your wildlife dreams are realised.
Mike, Dave and I did our usual speculation of what we might see as we
sped crawled towards Westleton Heath hoping a SE breeze would deposit rarities. Top of my list was Honey Buzzard; a bird blown over from the continent, or perhaps, if rumours and occasional sightings were true, a local bird. But maybe some passerine migrants, or some decent waders. Mike wanted some year ticks he'd missed out on so far - Dartford Warbler, Grayling Butterfly, Common Emerald. Dave, after extended health-related lay-offs, wanted to just get out with his camera and photograph some wildlife, preferably the massive green Bush Cricket he'd read about at Minsmere.
We started at Westleton Heath, retracing last year's steps to the Deer watchpoint. We got Grayling Butterfly almost immediately performing well on heather, then were immediately into a family party of Stonechats; a harsh churr churr and a Dartford Warbler shot past my head. A family party soon appeared and gave unusually confiding views on an old Gorse bush.
Walking past the quarry a lark dropped into the open area and as I approached to investigate further a small flock lifted with quiet whistles and settled a few yards further. We spent a good half hour enjoying this feast of Woodlarks, counting at least eight and possibly a few more. Woodlark was a possible bird on the list but we never thought it would be this number and these views.
On to the deer watchpoint and in a repeat of last year we had six Stone Curlews including one out in the open. A splendid list and we could have gone home happy at that point.
Mike and I returned to the car and David hang back to take some photos. When he eventually appeared it was to ask us why we hadn't responded to his calls when what was clearly a juvenile Honey Buzzard had flown over his head. After congratulating David we said not to worry, it was probably still around and we would surely bump into it later. Said with my fingers crossed behind my back.
We pitched up at Minsmere car park and scanned the sky for large raptors duly found one circling; dark brown back, but a white forehead and white underneath - an Osprey, and from the neat solid back probably an adult. We watched this circle for a while, had a Hobby flying underneath it, and as it slid away a gaggle of RSPB staff appeared and got a glimpse of it.
On through the Dragonfly pond - Common Emerald ticked, then onto the shore and East Hide. We had 2 Curlew Sandpipers, and good numbers of other waders. A few duck flew in and we added Wigeon and three Pintail to the list; then on to South Scrape and a Sandwich Tern and a few more waders.
On having South scrape and heading further down the dunes Mike suddenly stopped and pointed to a creature in the grass - unmistakeably a Great Green Bush Cricket ponderously crawling around. A huge insect, just a few on a skewer would make a decent serving. Dave duly clicked away delighted to have got onto one.
Then as we scanned over the reserve a large raptor appeared slowly circling over the Island Mere Reedbed. As soon as we got on it we know what it was, and through the scope it was all there. Large floppy-ended wings held flat, narrow wing base, small greyish protruding head, tail spread again a slight greyish from above. For Dave it was a case of Hello Old Friend; the juvenile Honey Buzzard was back. It was harassed by a Marsh Harrier which was notably smaller, and then as it continued out a Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard joined in.
Books go on about telling Common and Honey apart but honestly on a good view its just not an issue. Its blindingly unmistakably obvious. The bird was seen by various groups, and all those ladies with their cameras who tag along with their husbands, the ones who can't tell a Whinchat from a Stonechat and aren't bothered about it, they were all pretty sure they'd seen a Honey Buzzard.
On to the sluice bushes, and a small party of chats hoping around on the sward; two Whinchats, a Wheatear, and seven Stonechats. We didn't see the Wryneck reported from here, and neither did we meet anyone who'd seen it.
And that was more or less it. A Kingfisher flew across the path. A Green Sandpiper appeared. But then as the afternoon heat reached a peak we called it a day and headed back.
wow what a list. Woodlark flock, Stone Curlew flock, Honey Buzzard, Osprey, Curlew Sandpiper plus various seasonal goodies. All the main birds self-found and unexpected. It's one thing to go on a twitch for a rare bird and to see it, but to go out with no particular expectations and fill your boots like we did today is the stuff of dreams. The best of birding with, as always, the best of company.