Birds, Beetles, Blooms and Bugs in East Anglia

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Rutland Water

For many years I have considered myself a bird watcher but during this trip I realised that I am not just a bird watcher. I will look at anything in nature from birds, insects, plants, rocks, so I now consider myself to be a nature watcher. This is an account of my trip to Rutland and Norfolk in June.

I travelled by car but all sites I visited are accessible by public transport except Welney Wetland Centre.

Before arriving in Norfolk I visited Rutland Water to see the ospreys on the south shore of the reservoir. The visitor centre had a TV with a live feed of the osprey’s nest which contained three chicks and the female. I wandered down to the osprey hide and passed through yellow dominated wild flower meadows. In spring and summer these meadows are teaming with insects and I saw chimney sweepers (day flying moths), a spider resting in buttercup, various butterflies and spotted some lovely coloured common spotted and marsh orchids.

At the hide there were experts providing the public with useful and interesting facts about the ospreys and recording their behaviour. Also available was scope for the public to get a close-up look at the nest and birds. In the reeds at the front of the hide there was a cacophony of sound from the reed warblers and reed buntings which were flying in and out of them as they fed their newly fledged chicks. On the way back to the car in the early evening I was lucky to see a barn owl flying overhead.

I stayed in a quaint village called Thurlby before travelling though some lovely villages where the houses were made from dusty brown coloured stone with lots of old style cottage feel. The topography of the landscape changed from the rolling hills of Rutland to the flat lands of Norfolk and became edged with dykes running parallel to the roads. Instead of corners there were right angle bends with long straights.

house martin at Welney

Next I visited Welney Wetland Centre which, unlike some WWT sites, has only wild birds so what you see depends on the time of year and luck! In the first hide the house martins were busy bringing food in for their young. Did I forget to mention I am also an avid photographer? I spent some time here trying to capture a house martin in flight. Patience won I got two photos that I am pleased with.

I took a stroll to different hides and saw a number of wading birds including chicks. Alongside the pathways the foliage supported an array of insects including damselflies, moths and bees. I went on the guided talk on water voles which was very interesting as it is a creature I know little about and had never seen. I can though, as one came out on cue giving us glimpses of it between the reeds. Whist being serenaded by a cuckoo, we were also shown the fen nettle which looks just like a stinging nettle but has no sting and is only to be found in the fens. Do find time to visit the café; they do great coffee and scones. Even as I sat by the window looking out over the meadow I saw three hares hopping around.

From Welney I travelled from the flat fields of yellow rapeseed into the undulating landscape of the coast with sand dunes on one side and rolling fields on the other. The distinctive greeny-yellow umbellifers of alexanders, a coastal plant, dominated the roadside hedgerows. The coastal villages had a very distinctive look as not just the older buildings but some of the new were built from cobbles or flint. I used one such village, Wells-next-the-Sea as my base for the next 4 days.

Cley Marshes and RSPB Titchwell are two local reserves that I visited. They both have grazing marshland, reed beds and lagoons which attract a wide range of birds, such as spoonbills, marsh harriers and avocets nesting on the beach all of which I saw. Many birds had young and were busy feeding them, while the young could be heard complaining loudly they were not getting enough.

What is the redshank staring at?

At Holken beach (part of Holkham National Nature Reserve), you walk to the hides along a path, wooded on one side and reed beds and grazing land on the other. This gives a wide range of habits for the potential to see lots of insects plus tree dwelling and grazing birds. The first hide one looks out over the reed beds and into the fields and the other across grass land towards trees where the cormorants were nesting. This, according to locals, is also where the spoonbills are regularly seen and, on cue, several were seen flying around along with little egrets and a marsh harrier. Part way along the path was a small flower meadow where a common blue and a fritillary butterfly were feeding from the flowers.

One day I headed inland a few miles to Pensthorpe Wildlife and Gardens near Fakenham I did go on the Wensum Discovery Tour which took you to parts of the estate not open to the public. We passed through fields with rare breed English longhorn cows with calves and Norfolk long horn sheep into large flower meadows with orchids. Above us was the sound of skylarks singing as butterflies, damselflies and bees danced in the air.

a Pensthorpe longhorn

I had heard there was a very good chance of seeing a kingfisher as it was nesting near a hide. On arrival at the hide the people leaving had just seen it, so I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. After about an hour and a half hours it appeared. It was worth the wait. I got some great views of it and felt very happy my patience had been rewarded. In the flower meadows the common azure damselflies were everywhere and banded demoiselle could be seen skimming along the top of the streams. Highlights were seeing a day flying white ermine moth, marsh orchids and a hare.

a damsel fly

There was so much more I could have done on the Norfolk coast. For instance, I could have taken a boat out to see the seals and the tern colonies but time was up and I had to move on. Towards my next destination I took a diversion to the Iceni Museum in Swaffham which contained a reconstruction of an Iceni village, a bygone museum, a nature reserve, a 17th century cottage and a Saxon church. I spent an enjoyable few hours wandering around the different aspects of the site. This time I was heading for Thetford Forest to join some friends in the privately owned Railway Cottages in the heart of the forest. There we cooked on open fires and listened to nightjars and owls flying overhead.

What an end to a wonderful few days away.

Swaffham's Saxon church

Images © Jules Hill

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