We’re just back from a long weekend in Kent where there was sun, sea and rather more wind than proved ideal. Our reason for travelling so far East and braving the M25? My Dad’s 60th birthday present which was to have taken the form of a Tiger Moth flying experience. Unfortunately this bi-plane veteran of the second world war doesn’t take too kindly to gale force winds so it, and we, were grounded. A bit of a pain but with so many attractions within easy reach we weren’t exactly left kicking our heels. Far from it in fact as we managed to squeeze in early nineteenth century defences against French invasion, WW2 tunnels used in defence against Nazi invasion, nuclear power stations and a series of abandoned narrow gauge railways once used by fishermen. A varied selection even by our own somewhat random standards.
With appetites hopefully whetted let’s instead concentrate on something entirely different for now. Sorry about that. I’ve been wanting to fill in a few trips from my missing months of blogging and first up is a short break we took at the beginning of July to Cambridgeshire. Flying machines were once again a big draw, this time in the form of Duxford’s Flying Legends air display. No doubt a few photos from the day will make their way onto here at some point too but this post is all about the nearby reserves of Weeting Heath and Wicken Fen. Happy coincidence you might suggest? Nothing of the sort. Military like planning meant that after several years of failed attempts we were finally in the right place at the right time (just) to try and find Stone Curlews. This bird is one of the last UK species I really want to see and there is no better place than Weeting Heath if the internet is to be believed. In truth we didn’t know what to expect so were pleasantly surprised to find walking routes of several miles in length, a couple of decent hides and a promise that there were indeed Stone Curlews to be found. In fact the reserve warden couldn’t have done more to aid us in our quest, drawing up a map and pointing out the best viewing locations. Hopes were high but ultimately we came up short. A combination of tall vegetation and the wrong time of day meant zero sightings despite several hours of watching. We even made a last ditch attempt on our final evening to address the latter but still drew a blank. Probably the closest we came was the sound of a calling Curlew somewhere out on the grassland, a dead ringer for Stone Curlew but to untrained ears impossible to distinguish from its native counterpart. Frustrating but more than enough incentive to make a return trip early next Spring.
Thankfully the other residents at Weeting Heath were proving more than accommodating with two more target species, Hobby and Turtle Dove, both turning up exactly where the warden had said they would. The latter only gave brief flight views as it shot across a clearing in the woodland but its distinctive upper wing colouring was unmistakeable and represented a new life tick for my Dad. The Hobby on the other hand couldn’t have been more accommodating with several flight views near its nesting site. Also present were a good number of Yellowhammers whilst the raptors were added to by Buzzard, Kestrel and a trio of local F-15’s. Rather amusingly we were for a while convinced that the Kestrel was in fact a Stone Curlew, a statement that’s not as daft as it may first appear. For some reason the bird was running through the long grass and when virtually completely obscured it’s surprising how similar the two can look. Fortunately we were on our own in the hide when that particular misstep took place so we were saved our blushes, unlike the gentleman who was convinced he had one in his scope. Hurried shouts and barked directions later (all in a hushed tone of course) we all had the same cracking views. Of a Rabbits ears that is. Oh well.
If the birds were impressive then the number and variety of butterfly species proved even more so. Pretty much all the species we know were present including excellent numbers of Small and Large Skippers plus Small Heath, Small Copper and my very first Essex Skipper. Even a lifer couldn’t outshine the discovery of this Pine Hawk-moth however, found atop a fence post whilst looking for those ever elusive Stone Curlews.
A couple of days later found us at Wicken Fen, a National Trust nature reserve and one of Europe’s most important wetlands with over nine thousand species recorded there. I can’t say that we came close to seeing even ten percent of those but anywhere that greets you with the screams of nesting Swifts gets a massive thumbs up from me. A little more exploring and we soon unearthing other treasures including at least three Marsh Harriers, Kingfishers and Green Woodpeckers. Once again though it was hard to ignore the sheer abundance of butterflies and despite some persistent showers we managed an impressive haul.
As usual when concentrating on a specific habitat we ended up finding a couple of unexpected species. The first of these was a Comb-footed Spider, or more accurately two different forms of the Comb-footed Spider. The first form was lineata which we found devouring a Ladybird and the second was redimita doing similar to an unfortunate Skipper. There was also a fairly spectacular day flying moth which we eventually keyed out to Beautiful China-mark. Strangely this is a species not included in my normal reference guide despite it being considered common. Go figure.
Probably my favourite insects of the day though were the Mayfly’s. I’m fairly sure we’ve all seen classic video footage of the mass emergence of these delicate flyers but this was the first time that I’d ever had a real chance to get up close and personal. The main thing that struck me was just how big they are. Check out the length of that tail for starters.
Our sightings didn’t end there either with a couple of Lizards, an elusive Muntjack Deer and even a Fox. We bumped into the latter a couple of times along the river just before closing time. With the rain coming down more heavily now and most people already gone for the day he probably thought he had the place to himself. Think again Mr Fox. This is one party who wont let a little classic British summer weather put them off.