Dave and I took a small group on an afternoon and evening tour of some of the sites in "The Brecks", a patchwork of mainly conifer plantations and sandy heathland sites on the Suffolk and Norfolk border.
The main targets for the afternoon were Stone Curlew (one of a group of waders known as "Thick-knees"), and Nightjar (a species which folklore would have us believe feeds by sucking milk from the udders of goats - hence the strange archaic name!), which meant that we planned to stay late into the evening with the hope of seeing Nightjars when they became active at dusk.
As we wouldn't be finishing until late we had also arranged a late meeting time, beginning the days bird and wildlife watching with a visit to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen soon after midday.
The weather conditions at Lakenheath were not ideal as a relatively strong wind meant that the birds in the poplar plantations and reedbeds were keeping low. Bird of prey put on a good showing though, with Marsh Harriers quartering the reedbeds and nearby farmland, Kestrel and Hobbys overhead, and a Common Buzzard perched on a tree in a hedge by an arable field. A pair of Kingfishers flew in and landed for a while at the edge of a reedbed pool - which was appreciated by the group and others who were present, and a few Reed and Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats also gave good views (eventually!).
The brown lower mandible shows that this is a female (males have all black bills).
Sheltered areas also produced a good variety of other interesting wildlife, starting off with a Lesser Stag Beetle found on the path near the visitors centre. A few butterflies, including Red Admirals, Commas, Gatekeepers, and Meadow Browns were active, and later on Sunny spells produced some activity from a few dragonflies and damselflies, including a Four-spotted Chaser and a Red-eyed Damselfly, both of which provided exceptionally good views when I was able to set a telescope up on them.
Lesser Stag Beetle.
A stop at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve at Weeting Heath provided our first views of two Stone Curlew (which some of the group hadn't seen before), but they weren't particularly active and soon walked off over the brow of the hill from where others could be heard calling. We were left watching the numerous rabbits which help to keep the site grazed, and therefore suitable for the Stone Curlews to breed, and a large feeding flock of Rooks and Jackdaws.
Nearby there were Coal Tits and at least one Willow Tit in the small area of woodland, between the hides and car park, as well as many other small birds such as Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Goldcrests, and various finches.
Although the views that we had already had of Stone Curlew had been good, we visited another site nearby with the hope of seeing a little bit more activity, and it was pleasing not to be disappointed. We saw several more individuals, including some that flew past not too far from us, and were again able to listen to their somewhat eerie calls. One pair showed exceptionally well, and we were able to spend some time watching them feeding.
Other birds were also very evident, with male Yellowhammers and the Green Woodpeckers which were very noticeable here being favourites of some of the group. A feeding Hobby, which passed close to us several times, apparently feeding on beetles which were caught and eaten on the wing, was also greatly appreciated.
After stopping for a fish and chip supper in Brandon we headed for an area of young conifer plantation that had reached the right age to be attractive to Nightjars. As we waited for the light to fall to a level at which the Nightjars would hopefully show, we were a little surprised to find very large numbers of Summer Chafers, fairly large beetles similar to the larger Cockchafer, taking flight and headily off noisily, and clumsily, to other parts of the clearing. Quite a few moths, of various sorts, were also seen - but not well enough to be identified in the rapidly failing light.
Woodcocks appeared while it was still just about light enough to make out some detail on the plumage, and we were treated to several passes as they flew over just above tree top height on their 'roding' display flights. The sharp, whistled "Ts-wick" calls, audible from quite a distance, were usually the first sign of one approaching, and we were also able to hear the curious croaking call which is rarely heard because it is only audible at close range, usually when they pass almost directly overhead. A few Tawny Owls were also calling, but could not be seen.
Unfortunately we didn't see any Nightjars until later in the evening when it was too dark to see much detail, but after being heard calling a few times a female did give very good silhouette views as it flew slowly past parallel with the path we were stood on. At one point it passed within about six feet of Dave, while he was looking in the other direction - much to the amusement of the rest of the group, all of whom watched this from just down the track!