For two years, the WBC Events Sub-committee has dutifully met to put together a series of interesting talks and walks, both Suffolk-based and further afield, only to see the pandemic blow it all up.
But, we get to April 2021 and – is it possible that we might be able to start something up again? After all, 6 people can meet up outdoors, and if we’re careful about numbers and follow all the rules…..
It almost felt odd, then, to be meeting up in the car park at Outney Common, just outside Bungay, for the first local walk for over a year.
For me, it was very fitting that Outney was the first on the calendar following the relaxation of restrictions, as it had been my patch throughout the COVID pandemic and I’d probably got to know it better than I ever had.
With 10 of us, making two groups of 5, we set off in what was close-to-perfect weather – perhaps a little chill, but clear blue skies, sun and the trees about to burst into leaf.
The route for me is now a well-worn one, but every walk round Outney has the promise of the unexpected. This winter has seen the first records I am aware of for Great White Egret and – during the snows – Common Crossbill.
Despite this being probably the first meeting with a group of people for any of us involved, it seems almost second nature to instinctively keep around 6 feet apart – just another cultural change that may or may not last.
In terms of timing, this trip was just after Willow Warbler and just before Whitethroat in terms of migrants (Whitethroats would be recorded on Outney 3 days later).
As we followed the Waveney from the golf clubhouse, we were picking up Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren, Robin, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and several other usual suspects, although the Little Owl – which seems to have taken up residence adjacent to the golf driving range – did not put in an appearance.
Across the river, on the far side of the meadow between Outney and the A143, a flock of what were obviously thrushes dropped from the trees to feed on the ground below. Despite the lack of a scope between us, they were obviously Fieldfares – 17 of them, presumably making plans for their northerly journey.
Further on, I got the first sighting this year of the male Reed Bunting – in exactly the same tree as he occupied as a song-post last year. In fact, most returning birds seem to come back to the same part of the common
The route follows the river for a while, before skirting the golf course towards what is known as ‘The Hards’ – varied and sparse groupings of trees with grassland which has been a very productive birding site over the winter, with Redpoll, Siskin, Linnet – and the mysterious, only-seen-once flock of 15 Crossbill.
From here, you also have good views over The Lows – the grazing marshes beside the river, which only 7 weeks ago, were completely under water – and across to the woods below Bath Hills, often the favoured soaring site for Buzzard. We passed the Mute Swan nest, where the female has lost her partner, who was seen bloodied and wounded two weeks ago; she remains resolutely on her 4 eggs however.
The common offers a range of environments within a 4-5km walk – river edge, grazing meadows, marsh, copses and rough grassland, and finally, the scrub surrounding the fishing lake adjacent to the caravan park. This filled in some holes in our list – House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gull, Kestrel – enough to raise the total to 46, which was pretty good for late April.
It was also good to get started again, particularly in bright, fresh Spring weather and enough time to do what is a top birding site justice.
Bath Hills had been planned as an afternoon session, but we had taken 4.5hrs over the circuit so far, and the prospect of another 5km for perhaps two or three additions to the list seemed a little too much, so we decided to quit while we were ahead!
Thanks to Les Cuthbert for helping out by leading the second group; hopefully after the next event, things will have relaxed even further….