This would be the first WBC trip of the year, and we picked a great day to do it. Although the Beast from the East was just around the corner, bringing Siberian winter to the east coast, Sunday 18th February was looking good.
Steve Howell and myself had shown a degree of maturity at Keith and Jane’s wedding in Beccles the day before, and arrived at Thorpeness Mere fairly bright-eyed for an early pre-scan. There was actually some warmth on our backs as the sun rose over the North Sea. We might even have fooled ourselves that Spring was almost here….
The small group slowly assembled, and we spent the first 45 minutes of the day catching the Mere at its most attractive: the hint of mistiness, low-slanting sunlight from behind us, and hardly anyone else around.
Highlight of this section of the day was a group of male and female Goosander (some displaying), handily located fairly centrally on the Mere, with a good representation of other geese, ducks and grebes of a more expected nature – teal, wigeon, shelduck, shoveler, mallard, greylags etc.
Although there usually seems something a little bit weird about the artificiality of Thorpeness, without the mirror of a couple of score of people staring at it, you could almost imagine you are in some earlier version of England.
So to the first scheduled site of the day, half a mile up the road at RSPB North Warren. We were fortunate in that – this early on a Sunday – the whole pull-in opposite the derelict cottage was empty – until we turned up, and then it was full.
Rather like the Goosander at the Mere, our principal target – White-fronted Goose – were amassed obligingly in a large flock in the grass just beyond the cottage, rubbing scapulars with a similar number of Barnacles. And right in the middle of the flock – one lone Brent, which spent a good while disguising itself amongst the Barnacles before departing presumably to find others who spoke its language.
We were diverted from the geese by the ‘there and gone’ appearance of a warbler, atop a nearby bush. Following from reported sightings of a Siberian Chiffchaff at this location, some effort was made trying to re-locate it. A bird eventually flew out – but this was a normal Chiffy. Whether it was the same bird seen earlier, we couldn’t say.
The presence of the White-fronts so close had saved us a slog across towards the old railway line, so we headed towards the hides facing west, looking over the south marsh.
While not scoring anything ‘twitchable’, there’s a lot to be said for scanning wildfowl in good winter light; something about the combination of sun angle and plumage detail, which always seems to be so well organised and demarcated on duck. And here was one of my particular favourites – Pintail, particularly the stunning males, with that elegant white circling up from the breast and round the back of the cheek. It was one of those no-pressure kind of days, where the species list was ratcheting up almost without realising, with the kind of light that makes you realise just how fantastic binoculars and scopes really are…..
We decided to cross over the road, and wander back skirting the beach, in the hope of running into Snow Bunting. However, the public and their dogs had now woken up and feeling like a bracing stroll. Too much activity for too many birds to be found, so we headed back to the cars, lunch and then the short drive up to Hazlewood.
Everyone seems to have their own strategy regarding hitting the tide right at Hazlewood. My own is to look for high tide at Orford Quay and get down there about an hour before; others look for Slaughden or Snape/Iken, but I’ve rarely been let down by mine, so I stick with it.
The landscape had changed; the seed crop which had been breakfast, lunch and supper for the three variants on the Redpoll theme had been taken up. Although the Coue’s Arctic Redpoll had been reported earlier that day, the back-and-forth activity wasn’t apparent. As most of us that had wanted the ‘tick’ already had it, we didn’t hang around the cottages long, and headed for the SWT reserve.
On the way down, we ran into Mr Piotrowski, who was leading a private party round the delights of this part of Suffolk; while his group headed to the base of the field just beyond the houses, we went down to the path along the bank towards the hide.
The good light was holding on, and the sun was again behind us (the advantage of a good strategy!). The tide was also just about right, and was pushing up as we arrived.
Dunlin, Bar and Black-tailed Godwit, Snipe (perched on a fence), Knot, Grey and Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Avocet, Redshank, Turnstone, Curlew, Little Egret (of course!) all in varying numbers, together with a good range of gulls, including a distant Caspian, probably just short of full adult.
Anyone who knows Hazlewood wouldn’t be surprised at the number of Teal, Wigeon, Shelduck etc.
This is fast becoming one of my favourite Suffolk birding spots; always the chance of the unusual, but plenty of the usual if nothing else turns up! The walk down is great too. A very compact and varied site, and all due to the Storm Surge! I don’t like the hide though….feels like you should be firing arrows at the Normans….
We re-assembled, and decided that as the light was holding out, we should finish the day at Slaughden, where we’d meet up with Steve P. The party was now dwindling, but for those that remained, this was a great place to close.
Firstly, Snow Buntings feeding and drinking on the wall (although they had to dodge the 4-wheel drives of a large quantity of fishermen returning from Orfordness, presumably). Secondly, the odd out-of-context sight of Purple Sandpipers feeding at the edge of the mud on the river in the company of Dunlin and Redshank. Last additions to the list included Barn Owl on the other side of the river, and Red-throated Diver on the sea.
On the way back, I was musing on how many environments – and how many birds – you could access within a few miles on this coast; I’d left the listing to Steve H, but had no idea we’d ticked off 92 species on just one day in February, with no rush, no pressure….
Quite a start to the WBC year!
Great Crested Grebe
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Soptted Woodpecker