14 May 2008

The RSPB weekend away...

Well, the long weekend away with the RSPB is over for another year but this was one I’ll remember for a while - it was a great weekend from the moment we left home right up until we arrived back home. One of the highlights was the weather; it was dry, very sunny and hot for all three days, a total contrast to last year’s constant rain I can tell you!

Before we left I posted here that I was hoping to see around 120 species. I didn’t quite manage that total but there were some great birds in amongst the 101 different species I did get to see, or hear. So, how did I manage to get over the ton? Here goes...

Our taxi arrived to take us to the coach pickup point at just after 6:00AM. By 6:30AM I had my first bird of the weekend, one of the Derby Cathedral Peregrines was sitting out in the early morning sun watching our group of birders waiting for the coach to arrive. At just before 7:00AM we were all loaded onto the coach and on our way to Lackford Lakes. A stop was made on the way to Lackford, to comply with the legalities of the coach driver’s rest breaks, which gave Lynda and I the chance to become Hobbits for a while and take “second breakfast”. Bacon and egg muffins, hash browns and coffee isn’t a bad way to prepare for a day’s birding!

Once at Lackford the birding started in earnest. In just over 2½ hours Lynda and I located a total of 55 species. For the first 10 minutes or so I wondered whether I would even reach double figures as I just could not get my eye in when it came to spotting birds! There were warblers singing all around the car park but I just didn’t seem able to pinpoint them amongst the leaves and brambles - maybe it was jet lag from the journey! Then, almost as if someone had switched my brain on, things started to come together. First it was a Common Whitethroat, then came Garden Warbler, Linnet, an Egyptian Goose in flight and a distant Common Buzzard.

It's not easy finding warblers in cover this thick!

Whilst we were ticking off the birds around the car park a Nightingale had been singing, on and off, somewhere close by. Many of our group had already given up on finding the Nightingale, a bird not known for showing too well, and had moved off to other parts of the reserve. I managed to find the bird almost straight away - maybe, just maybe, I was starting to wake up. In the end the Nightingale sat out in the open singing for around two or three minutes, plenty long enough for me to show a few other members of our group the bird through my ‘scope. The second I tried to photograph it, it flew back into cover.

Other birds of note at Lackford included Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover, Common Tern, Kingfisher and Treecreeper. Butterflies were very active around the reserve with Speckled Wood, Orange-tip, Peacock and Red Admiral all being seen. At 1:00PM we all loaded back onto the coach, thankfully with the air conditioning working overtime, and headed to Lakenheath RSPB Reserve.

By the time we arrived at Lakenheath the temperature was starting to get a little overpowering, it was now well into the 80’s out in the sun. The thought of walking right around the reserve really didn’t appeal to Lynda and I, so we settled for a stroll along the river bank where what breeze there was might have been a little cooling. The breeze didn’t cool us down at all and we ended up walking right around the reserve anyway!

Views at Lakenheath RSPB Reserve.

When we arrived back at the visitor centre, after a walk of more than 2 hours, we had a list of 36 species. It wasn’t a long list, but it did have some top quality birds on it. Once again I had my brain in gear, and my ears open, and located a superb male Garganey as it called briefly from the reed bed. A quick scan with my binoculars and I had the bird in sight, and also managed to get a small number of our group onto it too. As soon as I reached for my camera it was gone. A feeling of déja vu crept over me.

At least five Marsh Harriers were flying around, a Water Rail was heard, a handful of Common Tern were diving into the river in search of fish whilst all around, the reed beds were alive with the song of both Reed and Sedge Warblers. Summer had arrived in Suffolk.

It was at the far end of the reserve that we witnessed what was, for me, possibly the highlight of the weekend; a group of 20 Hobby were all up in the air together hawking for dragonflies and other prey. Seeing just one Hobby at Willington a few weeks ago was exciting enough but the sight of 20 of these gorgeous little falcons in the air at the same time was something else.

After the Hobbies I would have been happy to return to the coach without seeing another bird but it didn’t quite work out that way. Within the space of just a few hundred yards we added two more Lakenheath specialities - Bearded Tit and Golden Oriole. The Bearded Tits gave their location away by calling from deep in the reeds just before they flew across the path in front of us, and then they turned around and gave us another flypast. Moments later we were stood watching a pair of Golden Orioles flying around high in the treetops of one of the plantations. Deep joy is a phrase that springs to mind!

From Lakenheath the coach took us to our hotel in Great Yarmouth and the chance to relax over a pint or two of beer and a much-needed evening meal. Our room was on the top floor of the hotel and looked out over the beach and the sea. Our evening meal, which was very good, was washed down by the beers I’d been looking forward to all day.

The view from our room in the hotel.

Sunday was spent at what is possibly the best RSPB reserve in the country, Minsmere. This proved to be a great day’s birding and, after all the rushing around the day before, very relaxing too. It was so relaxing that I didn’t even worry too much when I discovered that I had lost my mobile phone somewhere on the vast reserve during the morning! Within minutes of realising I had “misplaced” the phone I had it back in my possession. I went to the visitor’s centre to let them know that if anyone did happen to hand in a phone I would come back at the end of the day to collect it - the phone was already there waiting for me! Deep joy, again!

The count for the day was 79 species with the highlights being Little Egret, Bittern (heard only), another Garganey (again, found by me!), numerous Marsh Harriers, a single Hobby, large numbers of Avocet, two summer plumage Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Dunlin and around 20 Little Tern. A male Stonechat was seen by the path along the beach and a Cetti’s Warbler flew past us as we walked along one of the paths through the reed beds.

A couple of attempts at digi-scoping showed just how hit and miss this technique can be when it comes to taking bird photos. Shots of a male Pheasant worked really well; shots of a female Cuckoo were not so good!

The good...

The not so good!

At 4:45PM we were all on the coach and heading back to the hotel. It had been a long day out in the sun but it had also been a very enjoyable day’s birding too. Once back at the hotel there was plenty of time for a much-needed cool shower before we went down for our evening meal. Again, the food was great, the beer even better.

Our final day of the trip was spent walking around the village of Thorpeness, the surrounding fields and woodland and back along the seashore. The species count here was 61 and once again I managed to find one or two of the best birds of the day. I really was on a roll over the weekend.

The boating lake at Thorpeness.

We started by checking the birds on and around the boating lake in the village before heading off on a three-hour stroll that provided us with yet more new birds for the weekend. The first “find” of the day was a Mediterranean Gull that gave itself away as it called whilst flying over head. If it hadn’t been for that single call we may well have missed the only Med. Gull of the weekend - it pays to use your ears whilst birding you know!

Further along the walk I spotted an Adder - one find I would much rather NOT have seen - then we came across a couple of Curlew. A Yellowhammer was heard, but not seen, and a Marsh Harrier gave us good views as it hunted over a distant reed bed. A single Little Egret was located along with a couple of Gadwall, a Green Woodpecker and 2 Skylark. We then spent a short while sea-watching but quickly gave up when it became clear that what we were doing was just that, watching the sea! There was no seabird passage whatsoever.

Pointing out the Marsh Harrier.

Once back at the lake in the village I came up with my final “find” of the weekend, a Roseate Tern. To say I was just a little surprised would be something of an understatement - I was gob-smacked! It wasn’t the best example of a Roseate but the bird did spend a fair amount of time perched on a buoy in the lake so almost everyone on the coach was able to get good views of it. Deep joy, yet again.

At 3:30PM we set off on the long journey back to Derby, tired but happy after three great days of birding. At 7:00PM I added species 101 to my trip list when a Red Kite flew alongside the A14 just outside Thrapston. It may have fallen a little short of my expected total for the three days but I was happy, very happy.


  1. Wow. Even your blurry pics are exciting. They look like water colour paintings that way. So many birds and I have to sit at home and look at the same birds day after day. They sit in the trees cursing me while I fill the feeders because I don't get out there early enough LOL. We're on a first name basis. I think I would have to go out west or down south to find that many species. Hawaii would be a good place to go birding. Your photos are a warm welcome to the gloomy bismal days we've had. It's nice to see the sun shining somewhere. Still it was nice of you to share your scope with thos older gentlemen ;-)

    Glad the two of you had such a wonderful time.XX

  2. Nic (birdnerdblog)15 May, 2008 21:07

    Sounds like you had a great trip, some fab birds seen! 20 Hobby, 5 Marsh Harrier and a Roseate Tern? You jammy, jammy...:-)

  3. Evening, both!

    Nic... we did get to see some great birds! The Hobby were just amazing, something I'll remember for a LONG time!

    Sarah... I think that you'd soon have a big list of birds by just visiting new areas in Indiana. So far, almost 400 species have been recorded there! ;-0