Froize Uncovered Goes Birding

A WRITE-UP By John Grant

Froize Uncovered‘s new birdwatching adventures with Suffolk birders Steve Piotrowski and John Grant got off to a flying start on our beautiful local heaths and marshes with Wheatears and Woodlarks, waders and wildfowl – and finished off with a sublime, sumptuous and highly sociable lunch back at Froize.

Eighteen adventurers set out from Chillesford, heading first to the Upper Hollesley Common area – one of the finest remnant vistas of a bygone heathland landscape that once turned virtually the entire Suffolk coastal strip, from Felixstowe to Lowestoft, into a purple paradise. Now sadly greatly diminished and fragmented by agriculture and development, what little remains of these Suffolk Sandling heaths is an ecologically outstanding and internationally important habitat and our Froize expedition saw much of what it has to offer.

Birding highlights here were numerous and included two handsome male Northern Wheatears, freshly arrived from their sub-Saharan wintering grounds and fuelling up for their journey further north. Mistle Thrushes sang their strident tree-top songs and stood imperiously in view for us, once-so-common Linnets – now much reduced in their national population – were obligingly apparent, as were several gaudy Yellowhammers, another species undergoing drastic declines. Smart Coal Tits seemed especially numerous and a dazzling if distant male Stonechat was admired in the morning sunshine. 

A Cuckoo called and then gave prolonged telescope views, and Skylarks sang and showed well, but it was the latter’s much rarer cousin, the Woodlark, that proved the star of this heathland spectacle. This is a highly specialised species for which the Sandling Heaths represent a national stronghold and, after some tantalising flight views – in which the Woodlark’s stubby tail, broad-based wings and undulating flight were noted and discussed – we were treated to a marvellous view of one that alighted atop a low conifer. The species’ shorter-than-Skylark crest, its creamy white ‘eye-brows’ – referred to as supercillia by the more learned ornithologists – and that curious short tail were clear for all to admire.

A fine male Adder was enjoyed by all as it slithered across a firebreak and several Heath Moths and Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies were watched on the wing.

On leaving the heath, a male Kestrel was studied as it devoured an unfortunate rodent, raising thoughts of our own lunch. But that had to wait as we were off to the RSPB’s nearby Hollesley Marshes nature reserve beside the River Ore.

Here waders and wildfowl were abundant in the newly created grazing marsh wetlands. A fine selection of ducks included Northern Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Shelduck and Gadwall, but the waders stole the show. 

Several graceful Avocets showed precisely why the species was chosen as the RSPB’s logo bird – black and white with up-turned bills, they are a graphic designer’s dream. A male Ruff, probably in transit during a long migration from West Africa to European breeding grounds far to the east of us, fed feverishly in the shallows, and a Common Snipe – sadly no longer common as an East Anglian breeding bird – did its best to avoid detection in the lush wetland vegetation.

Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Lapwings, a Marsh Harrier and soaring Common Buzzards added to the interest, but our fascination was not restricted to the marshland’s birdlife. Across the Ore, out on the shingle banks that mark the southern end of the wild, desolate 11-mile vegetated spit that is Orford Ness, basked several Common Seals.

Lolloping lazily on the distant beach, these supine seals seemed to remind us that a somewhat lazier afternoon awaited us. 

After that sumptuous Froize lunch, some of our number at least were no doubt relaxed on their sofas at home – reliving a highly enjoyable and nature-filled morning in some of Suffolk’s most beautiful and most precious landscapes and looking forward to further such adventures with Froize Uncovered.

Birds recorded on 17/04/2019

Sutton Heath:

Blackbird (6)

Blackcap (6)

Blue Tit (5)

Buzzard (2)

Chaffinch (15)

Chiffchaff (3)

Coal Tit (10)

Collared Dove (2)

Common Crossbill (1)

Cuckoo (1)

Curlew (1)

Dartford Warbler (1)

Dunnock (1)

Goldfinch (8)

Great Tit (4)

Green Woodpecker (1)

Herring Gull (1)

Kestrel (2)

Lesser Black-backed Gull (6)

Lesser Redpoll (4)

Linnet (6)

Long-tailed Tit (6)

Mistle Thrush (6)

Pheasant (5)

Red-legged Partridge (2)

Robin (3)

Rook (4)

Shelduck (4)

Siskin (2)

Skylark (7)

Stonechat (3)

Treecreeper (1)

Wheatear (2)

Woodlark (12)

Woodpigeon (5)

Wren (7)

Yellowhammer (6)

Hollesley Marshes:

Avocet (5) 

Barnacle Goose (1) 

Black-headed Gull (6) 

Blue Tit (1) 

Buzzard (2) 

Canada Goose (12) 

Carrion Crow (2) 

Common Gull (11) 

Coot (2) 

Cormorant (8) 

Gadwall (12) 

Great Black-backed Gull (4) 

Great Crested Grebe (1) 

Great Tit (2) 

Grey Heron (7) 

Greylag Goose (40) 

Herring Gull (8) 

Jackdaw (4) 

Kestrel (2) 

Lapwing (7) 

Linnet (4) 

Little Egret (4) 

Little Grebe (1) 

Long-tailed Tit (2) 

Mallard (8) 

Marsh Harrier (2)

Meadow Pipit (1) 

Mute Swan (18) 

Oystercatcher (4) 

Pheasant (2) 

Pintail (2)

Redshank (3) 

Robin (1) 

Rook (110) 

Ruff (1)

Shelduck (34) 

Shoveler (26) 

Skylark (3) 

Teal (14) 

Wigeon (40)

Wren (4) 

Jay (1) 

Total species recorded at two sites = 66

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