Thursday, May 7, 2015

Birding Thetford

The day before yesterday I drove down to Thetford in Norfolk to spend a day birding with my mate Paul Stancliffe. The plan was to drive down in the evening, drink beer and whisky that night, get up early the next day (!) and have a day birding Lakenheath RSPB reserve. That plan was scuppered before I set off as news came through that the RSPB had closed the reserve for two days due to expected high winds. Presumably they were more than a bit worried about trees blowing over and crushing your optics...or worse. So we decided to stick pretty much to the beer and whisky bit but just do a bit of local birding around Thetford before the gales and torrential rain arrived. According to the Met office this was expected around one o'clock in the afternoon.
On Tuesday I set off and decided to call in at Twyford Woods in Lincs. to have a look for both Grizzled and Dingy Skipper butterflies as these are pretty much a certainty at this site in early May. But obviously not when the wind was gusting at around fifty mph, the rain was coming in in horizontal sheets and the skies were leaden. I spent three hours waiting for the weather to improve, got a photograph of a Butterfly Glade sign to remember the place by and a picture of a weird tower in the distance and then gave up. I did hear my first Cuckoo of the spring though and it sounded very much like Chris!

Clear and obvious sign indicating good place for butterflies. No butterflies in high winds, rain and general miserableness!
 Not a bird or butterfly to photograph so, in desperation, I resorted to taking photographs of anything that I thought worthy and this big tower was about as good as it got!
Great big tower thing near Twyford Woods. Water tower? Something to do with the old airfield? Used for shooting deer/pheasants/rabbits? Perhaps a butterfly observation tower!
Back onto the A1 to be confronted by " Long delays between junction 17 and 15." There had been an 'incident' and traffic was at a standstill so I headed off into unknown territory before junction 16. The Sat Nav took me through more fens, villages and hamlets than you could shake a fair-sized stick at but I did manage a couple of ropey photographs of a Red Kite battling with the wind in a village called Piddle-Down-The-Drain or some such.

Red Kite in the village of Piddle-Down-the Drain, Cambs.

Same bird coping better than me with the wid.
I arrived at Thetford around four o'clock and had a wander around the rivers looking for otters but there were none to be found so I took a stroll down to the BTO reserve at Nunnery Lakes. The wind had dropped, the sun was shining and there were at least seven species of warblers singing. Three species of hirundines and Common Swifts were hawking insects at various heights over the lakes and a muntjac deer took a look at me as I sauntered along. Not much from the hide but this Curlew stopped by for a quick bath.

Curlew from the hide at Nunnery Lakes

This bird was present for nearly a minute!!!
The beer and the whisky went as planned - very moderate, sensible and proper grown-up adult like approach adopted and so we were out and birding by 0800 the following morning. We racked-up the first 40-50 species at a lake, the name of which I have forgotten, not too far from Thetford. The most interesting birds were an adult and a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull, both too far away for photography, but which were accompanied by an adult Herring Gull for comparison. As far as photo opportunities went I could have taken pictures of, literally, hundreds of Mallards or a Pied Wagtail. The wagtail won and nothing else came near even though I was using a 400mm lens on a cropped sensor Canon 7D MkII.

Pied Wagtail.....near Thetford!

Next stop was a site not too far away for Nightingales. This was a small site comprising mainly, gorse, bramble, hawthorn and dog-rose and although it was close by the road and seemingly popular with dog-walkers we heard three singing males and had decent views of two birds. I even managed a few reasonable shots of one of the birds delivering its song. This is a species that, I think, is better heard than seen. I can stand around for hours listening to these birds.

Nightingale singing. You can tell that we are near the BTO HQ in Thetford...the bird's been ringed!
Whilst at this spot I managed to get photos of two species of butterfly: Orange-tip (female) and Small Copper but there was no sign of Green Hairstreak which is known to frequent the area.

Finally...a butterfly. Female Orange Tip

And another... Small Copper.
We set off for Lynford Arboretum before the threatened downpour - so far it had been dry and sunny, and very  warm at times. Fortunately Paul was suitably dressed in Wellington Boots. waterproof over-trousers, two fleece jackets and a Jack Wolfskin waterproof overcoat. So he was not feeling the heat at all!! Still he was ready for the deluge. At Lynford our aim was to see Firecrests and take some award winning photographs. We did indeed see a couple of Firecrests eventually when the wind stopped howling through the tree tops long enough for us to hear the calls. Photographs were never going to be. We were in a wood, it was dark, the birds were high in the trees, the trees were coniferous and dense, the birds were minute and everything was blowing about...forget photography. A better bet was a Chaffinch that dropped down to take at look at my camera lens.

Chaffinch... clocking me clocking him!
The weather forcasters were certain that the wind and rain would get really bad - that's why Lakenheath was closed. It had remained warm and sunny all morning but the wind was getting stronger and the skies were getting darker so we called it a day around twelve. On the way home it didn't rain once!
P.S.  check out Paul's new book here:

This is the brand new Collins - BTO guide to British Birds. This is volume one which deals with the commoner birds. Volume two, which tackles the rarer and vagrant species, is due in the summer.

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