They say nothing in life is guaranteed. Not sure who ‘they’ are but they’re wrong. I know this because every time I visit Weeting Heath, I see stone-curlews. These are rather scarce or to be precise, rare British breeding birds. I have covered these characters before in a previous blog but my birding year would never be right if I didn’t see them in this wonderful habitat.
At 6.30am I’m still blurry-eyed and the thing about Weeting Heath is that it appears to be home to the entire country’s population of rabbits. These rabbits have a special talent. They do pretty good impressions of stone-curlews.
Of the two hides, the first one produced nothing but rabbits and a mistle thrush. Normally, this position throws up a couple of the stones but not this time. And although the landscape is flat, it does have a distant ridge that drops away and you always think what if the birds are all down the bottom? That would be game over.
The second hide overlooks the west side of the heath. At first, this too looked like a rabbit fest but then a call rang out, similar to the curlew and at the far edge a stone-curlew paraded up and down much to this blogger’s delight.
This one was a bit mobile and soon disappeared below the ridge never to be seen again. The surrounding pine belt had coal tit and marsh tit but no spotted flycatchers this time. Leaving the car park, and setting off for Hockwold, another stone-curlew flew across the road and we nearly had a collision! It somehow managed to twist around and came down in a field but upon inspection, was well hidden and probably having a heart attack.
Hockwold Fen is an RSPB reserve that has shot to fame for the year-on-year breeding golden orioles it holds. It also has common cranes and a number of bittern. Apart from the occasional sound of a USAF F15 screaming through the clouds as it takes off from the Lakenheath RAF airbase, this is a very relaxing and peaceful place. The large ‘Washland’ holds a good variety of wildfowl and waders while sand martins and swallows skim the water’s surface. The edges are full of reed and sedge warblers noisily going about their business.
Today, there was a pair of garganey, a small, summer visiting dabbling duck, on the Washland and even a wigeon, a winter visiting duck to be seen. However, my mission as always to see the orioles.
Golden orioles are blackbird sized with the male a bright yellow bird with black wings. The call is a haunting, echo-like whistle that is quite unmistakable and always the first indication of a present bird.
|Golden Oriole, clearly glued to the branch by the photographer|
To say golden orioles are elusive would be an understatement. The black poplars they favour are tall, heavily foliaged trees that have leaves that reflect the sunlight like a thousand milk bottle tops hanging from the branches. This makes locating this brightly plumaged bird frustratingly impossible most of the time. The trick is to stand looking through the gaps in the rows of trees in the vain hope a bird will fly between the lines. Even then, they have an uncanny knack of moving from one part of the plantation to the next undetected.
I must have stood in the one spot I chose for say two and a half hours. In that time, I saw one golden oriole for about 3 seconds. To me, that was a result as some observers didn’t even get that. Even a bittern in flight couldn’t tempt my attention away from the wood just in case an oriole chose that moment to fly through with, no doubt, a smirk on it’s face.
From Hockwold Fen, I drove up to Welney. A long-staying bluethroat and a pair of red-necked phalaropes were on my shopping list here. By now, the weather had started to take a turn for the worse. What had been brilliant blue skies with a light breeze had turned into grey foreboding clouds and a chilling wind.
Welney is run by the WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) and boy, was it wet. There was plenty to see though with little ringed plovers, avocet and black-tailed godwit to be seen. A few whooper swans were still here – maybe staying for the summer now.
Alas, there was no sign of either the phalaropes or the bluethroat. They clearly don’t like the rain.