Last Thursday I got a call to say that some friends were heading off birding to Suffolk for the day, calling in 'en route' at Viking Optics in Halesworth hopefully for some repairs to a 'scope, and did I want to come. Well apart from the birding, I think I've dropped my 'scope just once too often, as there is a metal rectangle with a large hole in it, moving around just below the eyepiece but actually in the 'scope itself. Not impossible to see through the 'scope, but very irritating and wearing on the eye. So my answer was a resounding YES!
So 6 o'clock saw us setting off. Our first stop was to have been at Iken to search for a Cattle Egret that's been there for some time now, but as we approached the village of Melton, I mentioned to the other lads in the car to keep an eye out for Waxwings as some had been seen there the previous day. And a couple of minutes later, what should we see - but a flock of 16 Waxwings in the top of a tree at the side of the road. A rapid stop was in order while we took in what is quite likely to be our last sighting of this exquisite bird for this winter at least. Shame the weather wasn't better as it was cloudy with a chill NE breeze blowing.
Waxwings at Melton (nr. Martlesham), Suffolk
We were soon back on the road, and about 15 minutes later at the aforementioned Iken village. One of our carload had seen the Cattle Egret here before, and knew exactly where to look, and there it was - viewed from the car about 15 metres away! And with a Little Egret in the same field, should any comparison be required. (I feel I should explain here, for any of my Spanish readers, that Cattle Egret here in the UK is still a rarity, although with a total of about 200 in the country in a census about 2 weeks ago, surely won't remain as such for long - I still remember my first one in the UK, twitching all the way to Anglesey to see one back in the 70's or 80's).
Cattle Egret at Iken, Suffolk
Anyhow, that was the second of our targeted species done - and now onto the third. This one a little more tricky, but would be my third species of Grey Shrike in a month - a Great Grey Shrike! We got to the general area and set about looking for it, and after about 15 minutes it was found, although I must admit not by us but by a local birder onsite - hunting from fence posts in a clear area surrounded by pine forest. And whilst there we had Woodlark, Yellowhammer, Coal Tit and Songthrush singing (all of which appear to be declining species), and a brief sighting of Dartford Warbler, plus Peregrine and Common Buzzard overhead.
What an excellent start to the day, and it was still only 9:45!
Great Grey Shrike at Upper Hollesley Common, Suffolk
Our next stop was the business in Halesworth at Viking Optics. Here I must explain that normally I wouldn't include any business interests/details in a blog, but the help we got in there was so good that I feel it is the least I can do. In the end, I couldn't get my scope repaired, and the trip worked out quite expensive as I ended up buying a 'new' (second hand) 'scope, but that was perfect as it was a lot cheaper than a 'new new' one would cost, and an option I had been considering anyway (keeping one in Spain - that way I wouldn't need to keep losing half my luggage allowance to a scope when I go back and forth).
Optical business over, and having seen all our target birds, we decided that on our way back south we would call in at RSPB Minsmere just for a general look around. We took a slow amble around the reserve (something I've not done for many a year as normally when I go, it's to twitch something and so the place is full). This time there was plenty of room in all the hides for us to look at our leisure. We did the circuit from the North hide, south down the beach to the Sluice and back, and then on to the Island Mere hide.
Wandering around the reserve, we had the typical birds....
.... and mammals
And if we thought we'd done well before, it was here that our day was totally blown away. When we arrived at Island Mere hide, we were told that one of the Bitterns had been poking its head out of the reeds on the right side of the hide. And so we waited....and waited.... and eventually we could make out the Bittern just inside the edge of the reeds.
Bittern slowly emerging from the reedbed
And as we waited, it eventually showed itself fully - not for long, but long enough, only about 10 metres from the hide. And then having done so once, it did a repeat performance, but this time showing itself for a good 5 minutes out in the open, as it hunted for food. Meanwhile, another bird showed itself about 30 metres away from the front of the hide. What a luxury - having a choice of Bitterns to watch! I think everyone in the hide was of the same opinion - best ever views of Bittern!
Best sightings ever of Bitterns, from Island hide
And some of the other class birds seen from the hide, in this case redhead Goosanders
So, all in all, an excellent day out - even the sky cleared, although the NE breeze was certainly chill. Some excellent birds seen, but without the hassle of any 'must see' birds. Most enjoyable!!