Leader: Gi Grieco
A glorious morning greeted us at Santon Downham for a walk along the Little Ouse, glad that the strong winds and rain had abated. The area is always alive with birds and this was no exception with various finches in the surrounding gardens and scrub by the Forestry Commission car park, including at least four Brambling. Heading down to the bridge to get on the river path, the rising sun beamed through the trees as we saw a Grey Wagtail flying down river.
We had been unsure of the river level with the recent flooding in parts of the UK, but the path was passable, if sometimes covered in puddles or fallen tree branches and as we went along lots of birds present including Reed Buntings, Siskin, Nuthatch, Water Rail, three Bullfinch, lots of Wren singing with a few Song Thrush too. Great Spotted Woodpeckers occasionally drummed and there were some territorial squabbles were witnessed more than once. A Cormorant on the river with another one flying over, a Mute Swan was by a fallen tree that stretched across the river that seemed to be blocking it’s way and we were soon to return as the path was deteriorating with fallen trees and flooding, access would have been possible but difficult.
On returning two of the group were lucky to hear Willow Tit while another heard and saw a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, the Great Spotted Woodpeckers were still being vocal and a couple of Marsh Tits were found and a couple of Redwings were seen near the bridge area.
Our next destination was Mayday Farm in Thetford Forest and with the change in weather we were hopeful of a good raptor day and we were not to be disappointed. Setting up with a view across the forest we were initially treated to a pair of Common Crossbill that perched on the upturned trunks in a clear-fell area looking resplendent in the sunshine, nearby Meadow Pipit also seen as well as a Brimstone butterfly, our second species of the day having seen a Small Tortoiseshell too. A brief view of a raptor, a Goshawk, was only seen by some but fortunately another was seen, this time with it’s slow wing flaps as it drifted across the tree line. Other raptors encountered included Buzzard and Red Kite, the latter showing really well. Around the site we also came across lots of smaller birds including a star bird, a Parrot Crossbill, as well several more of their native relative, Common Crossbill, several Siskins, Goldcrest and Coal Tit along with Green Woodpecker and Jays. A few Woodlark, a couple of which were singing, were nice to connect with.
Final destination of the day was RSPB Lakenheath Fen, where, outside the visitor centre the feeders attracting lots of Reed Bunting, Blue and Great Tits and several Goldfinch.
We headed straight to the end of the reserve to the Joist Fen viewpoint as further raptors, this time Harriers coming in to roost were one of our goals and we were treated to some fine views, although we had missed the Cranes that had been visible a couple of hours beforehand. On first arriving we were informed that a bittern was close in the reeds but didn’t realise how close until it started clambering through the reeds eventually showing amazingly well. We were also to a see a second one fly past later.
A Cetti’s Warbler was very vocal close by and we also heard Water Rails and Bearded Tits in the reed bed, while circling the reeds were a number of Marsh Harriers. In the distance and overhead birds were starting to congregate and move and including lots of gulls, Starlings and Wood Pigeons with Tufted Duck, Greylag Geese and two Egyptian Geese also flying over with two Kestrels seen by the riverbank. As the light started to fade, first one, then a second Barn Owl emerged hunting over the area and then distantly a smart male Hen Harrier flew across. Another treat was alerted by birders, also scanning, who picked up two Otters at the far end of a dyke with brief views managed before they disappeared.
Time to head back as the reserve was locking the gates we finished with an amazing spectacle, lots of Rooks and Jackdaws coming in to roost in one of the plantations, a great cacophony of calling as they settled down and a really wonderful sight to behold.